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Thursday, April 14, 2016

An agonizing Super Nino winter full of mild weather, missed storms and bad luck is in the books

As promised, even one of the lousiest MRG season's in history deserves a wrap-up. It's painful even trying to remember all of the early season warm weather and the opportunities lost thereafter. 2015-2016 was a miserable winter and snow season in about every statistical way and then some. Adding to the misery was the repeated obscene gestures mother nature seemed to be throwing at us. In the parlance of our times, weather geeks might refer to them as "screw jobs". Get enough of these and one might refer to his location as a "snow hole". In the common tongue a "screw job" is a storm that deposits snow on seemingly every location but your own while a "snow hole" is a region that gets repeated "screw jobs" throughout the year.

Typically, quantifying "screw jobs" and "snow holes" reveals that the term is used too loosely. Statistics manage to even out over time and missing one storm early in the year can be balanced out by getting "bullseyed" later in the season. I bring this all up because I actually wanted to do the analysis and see if the repeated misses this season actually turned central and northern Vermont into the "snow hole" we all perceived it to be. In doing such analysis it is vital that you keep climatology as a reference point so I looked at snowfall amounts across the northeast, the mid atlantic and even parts of Quebec and compared them all to their respective annual averages. Here are some of the results. 

Location         2016   Avg   Pct
Mad River Glen   112.0 240.0  46%

Burlington, VT    31.6  81.2  39%
Manchester, NH    28.4  61.4  46%
Caribou, ME       87.2 108.7  80%
Montreal, QC      61.1  85.6  71%
Jay Peak, VT     194.0 340.0  57%
Albany, NY        16.9  59.1  29%
Rochester, NY     62.3  99.5  63%
New York, NY      32.1  27.5 119%
Baltimore, MD     35.1  20.1 175%

Drawing maps on the internet is not my expertise but even doing this basic one is very revealing. 

The map isn't perfectly drawn, but is a basic illustration of the above data. The Vermont "snow hole" was very real this winter. Places to our north such as Montreal and northern Maine outperformed us on a relative basis, as did places to our east along the Maine coast, as did places to our west such as the snowbelts of New York and the populated regions of southern Ontario. Areas to our south as New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, DC did exceptionally well relative to average all receiving between 125 and 175 percent of normal snowfall. Mad River Glen was not the worst location, but it was on the northeastern edge of the worst location so I am not accepting any consolation prizes. The corridor from southern Vermont through Albany to Binghamton, NY to Scranton, PA to Williamsport, PA was the worst place to be. All of these locations received under 35 percent of normal snowfall and some locations set records for the least snowiest season on record. Williamsport, PA has only recorded 6 inches of snow this winter, an incredibly depressing and dreadful result. Harrisburg, PA which is not even 100 miles down the Susquehanna Valley performed much better and the disparity can be explained away in one storm: the big January 22-23 Mid Atlantic blizzard that did Vermont no favors.

Though there was a promising build-up of snow across the northern hemisphere during the autumn months and the remnants of the two previous super "+ PDO" years remained in place, the dominating variable during the past year was the El Nino. I have been referring to this seasons big El Nino as the 4th "Super Nino" in recorded ENSO history dating back 65 years. A "Super Nino" is an El Nino winter where the critical ENSO measuring reasons feature water temperatures of more than 2 Celsius above average for a month. We have seen other "Super Nino" winters deliver decent though not great results and I certainly expected the mild weather to win the day in spite of the positive PDO and high late-autumn snow cover numbers.  The snowfall forecast of "normal" however was way too optimistic and in retrospect was unlikely given some of the expected temperature anomalies. It is probably fair to say that the region was relatively lucky during the super El Nino of 1997-1998 and was equally if not more unlucky during the past winter season where less than half of usual amounts of snow accumulated on the mountain.

To recap, it was not a pretty start. The mild weather that prevailed in November intensified in December and turned the month into one of the mildest months relative to average since skiing began at Mad River Glen. I am sure no one working at MRG was thrilled about having the mountain closed during the Christmas holiday, but I was hopeful that we could simply put the adverse pattern behind us  and out of the way and that the weather would deliver the same positive results of the recent 2006-2007 El Nino winter. There was every reason to believe that would happen as we approached New Years 2016. The menacingly strong jet stream in the Pacific which destroyed the month, relaxed substantially in January and outbreaks of cold weather and even some potential snow events finally appeared on the horizon.

The first big chance for a storm was on the weekend of January 9th and 10th. In the end, it was cold enough prior to the storm, cold enough in the wake of the storm and 40 degrees and raining during the storm. It would be the first of many events in the January-February time frame that either missed the region entirely or brought a drenching rain to a snow-starved mountain. The two weeks that followed did feature sub-freezing temperatures and some modest snowfall. The snow generally coming from clipper systems and Lake Champlain/terrain enhanced snow. As we approached the weekend of January 23rd and 24th however, a major storm became big news but not for the right reasons. Metropolitan areas, generally in the Mid-Atlantic region experienced a paralyzing blizzard but all of interior New England received little if any snow. By the end of January, more mild weather and even some rain left valley locations devoid of snow pack. Even the high country had a glaring lack of snow and we were once again closed for business by early February.

Most of February was even more agonizing.  The first 7 days of the month were an abomination complete with both mild weather and rain. The pattern became more favorable in the weeks that followed but for the most part, we snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and found new and incredible ways to miss big storms. Terrain enhanced snowfall around February 10th and 11th provided the mountain with the best powder of the year and reopened most of the terrain for what turned out to be a brutally cold holiday weekend. The weather remained true to its 2015-2016 character however and in the worst traditions of New England winter weather. Within 2 days of -15 degree temperatures, it was raining yet again with readings in the 40's and deteriorating snow. Just over a week later we saw more of the same, rain and another lost opportunity at a big storm. Models continuously struggled to provide any clarity and were full of false alarms for a variety of reasons. Most of this just simply rubbed salt in the proverbial wound. A week of cold weather in early March brought with it another storm that managed to miss all of New England and provide decent snows to both Ontario and Quebec. It was all over after that as mild weather reestablished control over much of eastern North America and effectively ended the season.

These days, any mild season brings the topic of climate change or global warming right to the fore. I've said it many times that mixing seasonal, monthly, weekly, daily, geographical variability with a longer term trend such as what has occurred with global warming does not work on the debate stage and people continuously fall into the this trap. There are so many components of the seasonal variability equation which need to be measured and we discuss many on the blog and many others I leave out. Though "global climate change" is a component when predicting temperatures over the course of a winter season it remains a very small component. A Super Nino type winter season, such as the one we had will render it even smaller. I am not a denier; far from it actually, but raising awareness of the issue requires one to approach it from the appropriate scientific perspective.

Speaking in terms of seasonal variability, nothing seems to have the impact that can match that of a Super Nino as far as global land and sea temperatures are concerned. As mentioned, we have had 4 of these events in the 65 years of recorded history and every one has resulted in a 0.3-0.6 C rise in temperatures relative to average across the globe with higher numbers at higher latitudes. It is an astoundingly large figure which accounts for a substantial portion of the big global anomalies we saw in the December to February time frame this year. Those that refuse to accept the statistical reality of global warming loved to refer to 1998. It is the reference point that has reached legendary status among the deniers. How statistically convenient to use a record setting Super Nino as a starting point and then claim that the globe as cooled since then ! Take a look.

Given what we know about El Nino and what we also know about seasonal variability, this argument is completely ludicrous. What is not ludicrous would be to compare global temperatures this past winter season with those that occurred during the last Super Nino, the legendary reference point of 1998. Take a look at these global temperatures anomalies.

Month          1998      2016
January        0.60      1.05
February       0.86      1.21

So with a Super Nino that was nearly equivilent if not a little weaker than 1998, global temperatures actually rose .45 C in January and .35 C in February. Such data just lends greater support to what we already know about the statistical global temperature trends. It is very noticable and very quantifiable. Those that want to claim the data is manipulated can simply resort to the empirical evidence such as the deterioration of glaciers, loss of ice in the Arctic, or the 9 trillion tons of ice lost in Greenland. 

With election season approaching and given some of the data discusssed in the previous paragraphs, we may again see some light shed on the issue in the coming months. I just find it unfortunate that have yet to move beyond the point of proving the relevance of the data. There are two candidates that have said, given the chance, that they would like to abolish the EPA entirely and leave the environmental regulatory authority to the states. Though some states might behave it would undoubtedly in my view set up an arms race among other states to see who can be the most friendly to the big polluters. Furthermore, it degenerates the argument to the point where no big picture workable solutions can be agreed upon. I tell as many environmentally aware people as possible that simply getting into pissing matches with other environmentally aware people is not enough. The needle only gets moved if the skeptics can be won over. Environmental issues need to be embraced not only by liberals but also by conservatives. In this country we seem to be moving farther away from that every day. If you are a conservative, there is nothing out there that requires you to eat everything at the conservative buffet. You agree with 60, 70 or 80 percent of the platform yet reject the cynical view toward environmental issues such as what Christine Todd Whitman has done. It is the most viable path forward toward meaningful change. 

Anyway, this miserable season is well behind us and the last of the snow is melting on the mountain. Next year, this El Nino will be severely weakened if not gone entirely. We are also through a season that featured some horrendous misfortune, some of which can simply attributed to a bad season at mother nature's slot machine. A repeat performance of that is highly unlikely. Enjoy the summer everyone and we will speak again as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, hopefully with some snow to talk about. 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Euro cries wolf again and Vermont misses yet another storm

Hype for an east coast reached yet another fever pitch but it was as if many had forgotten the last 6 weeks. It is important to preface the following statement by saying that the European model and its ensembles have had many terrific calls and have many times pinned down specifics on some of the most important weather events in New England ahead of competing information. The last 6 weeks has been a complete abomination for the Euro however with several false alarms. In a year so devoid of snowfall in Vermont, crying wolf is certainly not going to win any hearts and minds.

Barring a miraculous turn of events in the 11th hour, the Sunday/Monday storm is a miss. Even the most optimistic scenario has the storm farther east by about 100 miles. The cape and even Boston could still receive some snowfall but much of New Hampshire and Vermont including the Green and White Mountains will receive next to nothing.

Chilly temperatures will still dominate the region and in fact may thwart the coming milder push of temperatures for a few days. Some snowfall is in fact possible on Tuesday and Wednesday across northern New England thanks to a nice overrunning zone established by the mild push of temperatures battling the existing cold weather. Snowfall accumulations could amount to a few inches before temperatures finally climb above freezing Thursday and perhaps reach the 50's on Friday.

Assuming nothing crazy happens, the blog will conclude with a seasonal wrap-up sometime next week before going into spring and summer mode.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Sunday-Monday storm still not likely but remains in play for now

Winter makes a multi day cameo appearance in a month that has been generally middle. Rain and snow showers later Thursday become snow showers Thursday night producing a few inches of accumulation across the high country. Friday will be a rare blustery, sub-freezing day along with a few flurries. Saturday is high and dry with temperatures topping out right around the freezing mark after starting out in the 5-10 range.

The potential storm is still in play. The European model suggests a decent sized storm close to 980 mb tracking just east of Cape Cod. Vermont would be on the western side of some heavy snow while portions of New Hampshire get clobbered with well over a foot. This is the best case scenario for Vermont and includes about a 6-12 inch snow late Sunday into early Monday. Other models have been and continue to be further off shore with this system and weaker as well. The European has been living in its own fantasy-land with many of these systems over the last month-plus so I am extremely reluctant to sell my soul to another one of its snowy solutions. That said, it does have some support from its ensemble members as of early Thursday morning so it remains worthy of watching.

Though cold weather will linger through Tuesday March 22nd, the pattern continues to look extremely mild from the 23rd to about the 30th of the month. This could include another 1, 2 maybe even 3 days of readings in the 60's in this stretch. Ensembles do show the build-up of a ridge along the west coast around March 31-April 1 and this could lead to an outbreak of colder weather around that time.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Winter is on life support but will try to make one big last gasp this weekend

To be perfectly frank, I am ready to put the 2015-2016 winter season in the rear view mirror. March however, is typically the best part of the MRG season and in many years is the snowiest of all the winter months in Vermont.

We are still in the midst of a stretch of milder weather which will persist through a good part of the week.  With the help of some sunshine on Wednesday, temperatures might again make a run at the 60-degree mark but clouds and some rain very late in the day might thwart that effort. Cooler weather will begin to slowly work its way back into the region Thursday; in fact, leftover moisture might result some limited snow across the high terrain while light rain falls in the valley locations.  Friday begins a limited multi-day stretch of colder weather, perhaps the last such stretch this month.

Though Friday and Saturday look dry along with temperatures just below the so called "normal" threshold, a storm system will try and organize during the weekend combining jet energy in the plains with southern branch moisture in the Gulf of Mexico. Whether or not this all comes together correctly remains a question but there is a decent chance for some sort of east coast event Sunday the 20th into Monday, March 21st. Yes, one of the scenarios does call for a decent interior New England hit. The storm system would lack the strength to be historic storm but could produce as much as 12-18 inches of snow. That would be the upside. The downside is another in a litany of misses for Vermont this year.

Cold weather will continue to grip the region through the 22nd but will give way to more mild weather for the last week of the month. The limited blocking that was supporting the cold weather around the Spring Equinox will deteriorate plus the jet in the Pacific is expected to tighten. The storm late this weekend may be the last chance for a significant taste of winter though as Eric at MRG said, stranger things have happened.

Monday, March 7, 2016

A mild and somewhat rainy upcoming two weeks still expected

Nothing new or exciting to report as of March 7th. Pattern is still poised to turn very warm and stay that way for a better part of the next two weeks. Readings might get close to the 60-degree mark across valley locations Wednesday with 50's across the high country.  A front will drop south out of southern Canada late Wednesday and early Thursday bringing the chance for some light rain and temperatures that are less mild. Later on Thursday, a more organized wave of low pressure will move along that same boundary of temperatures and spread significant amounts of rain into northern New England later Thursday and Thursday night. It's ironic because this particular storm will take a relatively favorable track for snow but the pattern will have gotten so warm by late this week and available arctic air is so limited that the results, predictably, will be another swing and a miss. There is a chance that rain changes over to a period of snow across the high country early Friday leading to a wet accumulation, but that is after about an inch of rain.

The pattern does appear to want to return to normalcy around the time of March 20th. This is very late in the game however and lots of damage will have been done both from rain and from warm weather. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Winter to make a retreat and a reappearance is not on the horizon

It's going to be difficult to keep SCWB going barring a dramatic change in later March. The snow stake at Mt Mansfield illustrates the situation perfectly. It is right there with the worst winters going back to 1954 which spans 60 years. In 1980 and again in the Super Nino winter of 1983, the snow situation was similar, but both years featured snowy periods in March or early April salvaging some minimal dignity. This year appears to want to go the way of 1956-57, which after a awful December, January and February, faded completely in March. If anyone has the great Crosby Stills Nash and Young's live album - 4 Way Street, Neil Young introduces one of his songs by saying this - "Here is a new song guaranteed to bring you right down, its called 'Don't Let It Bring You Down'. It sorta starts out real slow and fizzles out all together." This describes the winter of 2015-2016 perfectly.

There is really no snow in the forecast over the next week and I am not sure it gets much better beyond that. One organized weather system will pass well to the regions south Friday. This means more snow for the Mid Atlantic, a region that has actually seen above normal snowfall this winter. Another much weaker system follows on its heels Saturday night into early Sunday but this too will pass well to the south of us and minimal if any snow is expected. The last of the cold weather from the present arctic intrusion will then vanish Monday and give way to thaw which is expected to persist for several days.

The European model remains a bit warmer than the American GFS model going forward but both models share in the belief that the thaw will mark a major retreat for the current winter season. Temperatures in the 60's are possible during the middle part of the week and although cooler weather is expected for the weekend, nothing categorically cold is expected (below normal temps) and snow is certainly not expected. It is possible for the pattern to take a dramatic turn in later March. Spring in New England is especially unpredictable and full of twists and turns but I would be surprised to see significant snow or cold of any kind through about St Patrick's Day which looks out about 2 weeks.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Wednesday's storm shifts slightly north again and the results are not especially exciting.

Another day and another potential storm makes a critical northward shift. Though with this upcoming Wednesday storm, the shift is not as dramatic, the consequences sing a familiar tune including less snow and more sleet and freezing rain. At least the mild weather Monday will give way to a stretch of subfreezing temperatures that should persist through the first full weekend in March. Beyond that, some troubling signs are emerging.

Here is the situation with Wednesday. The storm is a garden variety weather system which will organize Tuesday in the Ohio Valley and head northeastward. Like many of its predecessors, this is a storm that could have provided much of the Vermont ski country with a nice 8-14 but this was predicated on a storm track over central New England. Once again, the forecasted storm track has shifted slightly north so that the center of the storm moves over southern Vermont. It was a subtle and seemingly small shift but we had little room to play with as indicated in the last update. The result still includes a few inches of snow early Wednesday morning followed by a period of sleet and freezing rain around daybreak. The best precipitation with this storm however will be over Quebec and southeast Ontario. From the standpoint of snowfall, it is typically problematic to be too close to the center of central lowest pressure. In the parlance of "weather geek speak" it is the "shaft zone" but the simpler scientific description would be to call it the "dry slot".  By midday Wednesday morning, I think much of central Vermont including MRG is precipitation-free. Later in the day, some minimal wrap around moisture could allow for some snowfall but I wouldn't expect much more than an inch. Overall the storm is another dud; 2-5 inches of snow and ice and more ice farther south and more snow farther north.

What is with these northward shifts, they are killing us ? No doubt. Actually sometimes the "northward shift" brings snowfall when we expect nothing. In early March 2001, there was a conventional wisdom in the forecasting community of a big snowstorm for the big east coast cities and partly cloudy for Vermont. 5 days later, northern Vermont was putting the finishing touches on a 50-70 inch dump. This year however, we have seemingly been the focal point for a bunch of argumentative weather situations and about lost every one. The ice-free and relatively warm Great Lakes has been a major problem here. They are pulling some of these weather systems northward and the models are having a tough time resolving all of this until very late in the forecasting game.

The end of the week we will be spat on as another Mid-Atlantic storm deposits snowfall well south of us. This storm could also make a northward jump late, and it may do so, but it would have to move about 300 miles farther north for Vermont to get the good snowfall. Instead, we are expecting dry and cold in the period beginning Thursday and ending Saturday. On Sunday, the polar jet, will start to recede but may deliver one last clipper system before doing to which could result in some snowfall though models don't agree on that as of yet.

What models do agree on now is a March thaw which will commence around March 8th and continue for several days. The European was teasing us with a total capitulation of winter for several days though it has backed off somewhat this morning. What seems likely is that winter makes a substantial retreat and the minimal Vermont snowpack is once again dented. It does seem possible that a stormier pattern emerges by the middle of March with a return to more seasonable temperatures around March 12th-14th but there are no indications of glaring cold weather support. The thaw should peak out around March 10th and 11th and could include readings in the 60's for a day or two.