Curious Nature: Where is all the snow?
Vail, CO, Colorado
Maybe you haven’t noticed, but the snowfall this year has been a little sparse. In fact, the Upper Colorado River Basin is currently reporting snowfall at approximately 58 percent below the average. Of course, maybe this “average” has left us all a little spoiled in terms of what we consider good conditions for winter sports.
Besides the decreased opportunity to play in piles of white fluffy powder, the decreased snowfall also means less water for spring rafting and summer forests ripe for wildfires. It’s really a scary scenario all around. Forecasts for later this month predict 20-30 percent chance of snowfall at most, not exactly great odds. So what does the rest of winter have in store for us? Are we doomed to a winter season of scratched skis and mountain biking?
Long-range forecasts for the Mountain West in 2012 vary dramatically. The age-old and highly disputed Farmer’s Almanac calls for a winter with temperatures above normal, with the coldest periods in late December and mid- and late February. Precipitation is actually predicted to be above normal, with the snowiest periods in early November, mid-December, mid-January, and early and late March. April and May are expected to be much cooler and snowier than normal, and while this will help prevent drought and wildfires, it doesn’t help much with the traditional ski season dates.
If you’ve looked at weather maps lately, you have probably noticed the dramatic shape of the jet stream as it takes weather from the Pacific Northwest and blows it north towards Canada. This leaves most of Colorado in a high pressure area, where the warm air sustains itself with the Colorado sun and deflects incoming storms. The jet stream then takes a southward dip somewhere in the Midwest, taking our much-needed moisture towards the northeast, where they just plow it into piles and wait for spring. Since most of our snow typically comes from the Pacific Northwest, it’s not likely we’ll see any of that moisture until the jet stream changes its path.
Other weather events, besides our sparse snowfall thus far, have also made the news lately. Storms of all sorts are showing up with a ferocity that hasn’t been seen before and in places where we didn’t expect them. I’m guessing most people in New Jersey don’t remember the last hurricane to make landfall there since it was in 1903! Some climatologists think this increase in extreme weather events marks the end of a long period of “warm-wet” weather, which is generally accompanied by an increase in prosperity and peace. If the Earth is indeed entering a “warm-dry” cycle, predictions abound for disastrous consequences since the last “warm-dry” cycle was marked by the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression.
These predictions of doom and gloom related to worldwide climatic changes make the issue of current skiing conditions seem relatively meager. But if we think locally, it reminds us how important snow is to us in so many ways. Besides the life-giving water that gets stored annually in the snowpack, snow is part of our lives, as integral to the fabric of winter as mountain winds and frosty breath. So while most of us are doing our own personal snow dance, encouraging the flakes to fly, there’s really not much we can do except to be patient and believe in the power of winter. And of course, there’s always next year!
Jaymee Squires is the graduate programs director at Walking Mountains Science Center. Jaymee is still hoping for more snow, but is making the most of the sunshine while it lasts.
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