Friday, March 7, 2014
After another shot of mild air that rushed up the eastern seaboard and doused the slopes of the Northeast, the overall pattern is about to undergo changes to a setup that will be much more palatable for skiers and riders.
The job of a snowmaker has to be one that is extremely frustrating in this pattern. Arctic outbreaks have been frequent and strong enough to allow for some very productive, multi-day, 24/7 mechanical blizzards this season, but on at least three occasions a quick and wet warm-up has followed on the heels of those windows.
Last week, while most of America was lamenting the intrusion of cold associated with the polar vortex, the mountain crews were pounding new snow onto the slopes and trails of the Northeast.
And then the trough responsible for the chill lifted out into northeastern Canada, a southwesterly flow developed over New York and New England, and Gulf moisture came streaming into the region in the form of a soaking rain.
Thankfully, the new snow that had been made was very dry, so it did a good job of leaching the rainfall through the surface.
The only trails that fell victim to the rain and mild temperatures were natural snow runs, and truth be told, there weren’t a whole lot of them that were open before the warm spell.
As I explained in last week’s video report, we are currently in a “westerly QBO,” or Quasi Biennial Oscillation. That typically results in a colder than normal winter over the Northeast, but it doesn’t guarantee that there won’t be setbacks from quick hits of warmth during the season.
We have already experienced several systems that took an unfavorable track to the west, which resulted in a southerly flow of milder air up the East Coast, complete with sleet, freezing rain and plain rain. Going forward, there are strong signs that the mountains will return to much more favorable weather and I expect colder than normal conditions to dominate as we head through the heart of the season, but due to a lack of a blocking pattern over the North Atlantic (consistently negative NAO, or North Atlantic Oscillation) we will continue to be susceptible to quick hits of warmth from time to time.
That said, the pattern is about to become much more to our liking.
This week will start with milder than normal air in place over the Northeast, thanks to a flattening of a jet stream level ridge over the West coast that has allowed more Pacific air to spread across the country. While that development has not been good news for skiers and riders in this part of the country, if you happen to be travelling to the mountains of the West in the near future, it is good news.
Here in the Northeast, we are going to see a series of cold frontal passages this week, the first of which will be acting upon air that will not be cold enough to support snow, aside from a short period of mountain snow showers after the front has departed. There will be a little freezing rain on the front end of the system in the lower elevations of northern New England. Thankfully there won’t be any connection to the Gulf this time and amounts will be light.
Another front will slide through Wednesday, triggering a light accumulation in the mountains that will help with the resurfacing effort. By Wednesday night, the crews will be back to making snow 24/7 in northern New England and the mountains of New York, and the lower elevation areas will get back to nighttime snowmaking. Yet another front will move from the Lakes to the eastern seaboard at the end of the week, further deepening the cold air over the region as the western ridge/eastern trough couplet continues to grow in magnitude.
Short term, you will find groomed granular surfaces in the mountains early this week, but a combination of light snow and a renewed snowmaking effort will gradually transform the surfaces to packed powder by the end of the week, just in time for the MLK holiday. Be sure to check out my video on Thursdays for more details for the long weekend.
As The Skiing Weatherman, Herb Stevens has been the go-to guy for snow conditions for skiers and riders for more than 25 years, first on televisions stations up and down the East Coast, and now on newspaper-related web sites. A lifetime New England skier, Herb travelled the world as a caddy on the PGA Tour for five years before launching his career as a meteorologist. After one year at WJAR-TV in Providence, R.I., he became one of the original on-camera meteorologists at The Weather Channel, and later was chief meteorologist at WNYT-TV in Albany, N.Y. While at WNYT, Herb pioneered a weekly on-snow ski report, which later became his full-time job as The Skiing Weatherman.