VAIL - The forecast for the foreseeable future at Vail and Beaver Creek shows nothing but sunshine and blue skies. The next chance for snow - maybe - is Monday, and forecasts show only a couple of inches possible out of that so-called storm.
In recent memory, the 2007-08 season started off dry and ended up wet. Last season - one of the worst snow years on record - started out snowy. You can never tell what December and the rest of the season will bring based on November weather, but that doesn't help local hotels waiting for December bookings to fill up.
The sunny skies are unsettling, said Meteorologist Joel Gratz, who runs the powder forecasting site www.opensnow.com.
Gratz points out that weather, or storm tracks, often gets stuck in a pattern. Over the last decade or so, he said those patterns have tended to persist for 2 to 4 weeks and then they change. Last season, however, the pattern never really flipped, Gratz said.
"That was the first time I had seen that in a long, long time," he said. "We were on the wrong side of the storm track and nothing really shifted, and the last few weeks we've been on the wrong side of the storm track and nothing has really shifted. ... It's unsettling to see this now. I don't know if it's going to change or not. I have no clue."
Gratz isn't trying to sound optimistic by saying he doesn't know what will happen. He said he gets emails from people who want to know what's going to happen this winter. They think he really knows what the weather will be like but just isn't telling anyone, which makes him laugh.
On the Vail Daily's Facebook page, people expressed concern about the start to the season. One person commented that the snow will come, but another questioned whether we could be experiencing consequences from climate change. Gratz is quick to point out that it's too early to know if we're in some kind of new normal because of climate change or some other reason, though.
John Rosenthal commented that he's very worried and is doing his snow dance every night. Court Coursey commented on Saturday that he's "extremely concerned with no snow in the forecast for the next 10 days, either."
Mike Maher said "repeat of last season, maybe worse. I am worried!"
And Michelle Brodeur Brooks said she's really worried, too.
"I know it is usually a slow start at this time of year but it has been really warm. Kids start Beavo in 2 weeks and I am praying we get a big storm before then," Brooks wrote. "We can't have two horrible years in a row."
Then there are those who remain optimistic, no matter what.
"A bad day here is a good day out east," commented Shane Kennedy.
"It's going to happen," said Mindy Pannell. "My guess is we get socked in from around Christmas on. Believe in snow people!"
Gratz doesn't usually forecast weather beyond a few days out because long-range forecasting is typically inaccurate. He like to forecast the next storm, but lately the next storm is farther out than just a few days.
"This is really testing my wits because I hate long-range forecasting," Gratz said.
Sites like www.accuweather.com predict weather a month in advance. That site shows the Vail area turning to a colder, snowier pattern around mid-December, but Gratz said you just can't scientifically predict weather that far in advance.
He does see a storm heading toward Colorado around Monday, but he only expects 2-4 inches out of that storm, if that.
It's still a bit too early to pin down the exact timing or amounts, but the models are somewhat consistent with this storm hitting Colorado, so I'll jump on the band wagon," Gratz wrote in his Tuesday forecast. "At this point I wouldn't expect much more than a 2-4 inch event, but maybe if we get lucky there could be talk of six inches."
Gratz has looked at some historical data over the last 30 years and said there have been maybe 2 to 4 seasons that had an equally slow start like this season. Half of those seasons turned out about average, and half turned out below average, he said.
"At this point, if things switch around, we can make up for it," Gratz said. "If we got a couple of storms a week for two weeks - and they don't have to be big storms - that just builds the base and you could get a lot of the mountain open in two weeks. ... I haven't written off the season - you can get into a snowy period."
Gratz is himself an avid skier, which is why he's in the business of forecasting weather specifically in terms of powder days. He, like many snow enthusiasts, hasn't been too happy this month.
"We're looking for consistent cold, snowy weather. That's still a possibility," he said. "I'm not obnoxiously optimistic, but truly, that could definitely happen."
Assistant Managing Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or firstname.lastname@example.org.