This was an “interesting” season. Or at least that’s the nice way of putting it. For some, the snow came often and the season was amazing. For other areas, the weather was more frustrating than helpful. Let’s take a look at a few different regions.
In the east, most resorts wound up with 50-75% of average seasonal snowfall. While this is a “workable” amount of snow, there was another factor that made the season more challenging: the lack of consistency in the snowfall. It seemed that just as a cold snowstorm would move through the region yielding fun conditions, the next storm would track too far to the west and push warm air and rain into the area. As they say, wash, rinse, and repeat. Yes, the snowstorm-then-rain-then-snowstorm cycle seemed to plague the northeast for the majority of the winter. Let’s hope next season is consistently cold!
In the west, it was all about the Pacific Northwest. In that regard, this season’s La Nina performed about as expected. La Nina means that the central Pacific Ocean is colder than normal, and this difference in water temperatures changes weather patterns across the globe. For the U.S., meteorologists are very confident that the changing weather patterns brought on by La Nina bring more snow to the northern part of the country.
For areas in the middle – Tahoe, Utah, and Colorado – La Nina is a toss up. Sometimes it brings a lot more snow than normal and sometimes it doesn’t help at all. Last season, La Nina brought record snowfall to all of these areas, but this season was the opposite. Tahoe did have a good comeback in March and April, which brought snowfall back to about 70% of average for the season. That is also where most areas in Utah and Colorado wound up.
The southern areas – southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico – saw a great early season with a few cut-off storms moving through. A cut-off storm is one that breaks off from the main west-to-east flow of weather and usually drops south and slows down. This isn’t necessarily normal during a La Nina season, but it did make for a great start down south. Unfortunately, the season turned drier as the days clicked by and the later half of the season was somewhat opposite of the first half. Still, there was more snow in this area than I would have expected with a La Nina influence, and that’s a good thing. Also, include the southern Colorado resorts of Telluride, Silverton, Durango, and Wolf Creek in this section as their weather pattern more closely matched these southern states than the rest of central and northern Colorado.
In pictorial form, that total precipitation for the season was at or above average for northern areas, and about 60-70% of average for the “middle” areas.
However, the actual state of the slopes late in the season didn’t look as good. In terms of how much snow was on the ground compared to average for mid April, most areas outside of the northern states only had about 40% of the normal snowpack, which was due to little snow and warm temperatures for most of March and April. But of course the Pacific Northwest was well above average, typical of a La Nina season.
A record of snowfall across the West.
In some areas, this season brought frequent and deep snowstorms. But for most resorts, it was a season of frustration with a few powder days permeated by dry and warm weather. Still, there are far worse things than sitting on a chairlift and getting a tan. And let’s roll with that optimistic line of thinking and apply it next season, which is hopefully one that’s filled with much more snow than 2011-2012.
Meteorologist Joel Gratz is the creator of opensnow.com and is based in Boulder, Colo.