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Sunday, April 4, 2010

Warm weather ends an uneven season

Uneven would be a generous way of putting it, disappointing might be the blunt way. There were some high expectations going into the year as it appeared we would have the right mix of high octane jet energy in the south and cold weather from the north to produce some big things. In fact, that is exactly what we saw, but all the fun was well to Vermont's south. The snow would have been more welcomed in our neck of the woods since it caused unprecedented disruptions in air traffic and costly clean-up projects in our major U.S. cities.

It is funny to look at the compiled data and how it illustrates how 2007-2008 got turned upside down thanks largely to a flip in the ENSO from La Nina to El Nino. Take a look at how we left 2007-2008 at the SCWB.

"Montreal, Quebec - 142 inches (169 % of average)
Burlington, VT - 100 inches (131 % of average)
Boston, MA - 51 inches (113 % of average)
Philadelphia, PA - 6 inches (25 % of average)

In the language of anomalies that is quite a contrast. In other words, some pain and suffering had to be endured by skiers/riders who stayed at Seven Springs or Snowshoe WV this year. Lattitude was key at we had it at MRG and this proved to save our season."

Pain and suffering is not the word to describe the season at Seven Springs or Snowshoe this past winter. Both mountains received over 200 inches of snow which in the case of Seven Springs was a record. Most importantly, the conditions were epic for the first three weeks of February in all of those locations as record snow was combined with consistent cold.

At Mad River Glen, we did not have a winter as futile as 2005-2006 or 2001-2002. We were pleasantly surprised early in the season as several storms pronged to move well to our south took an 11th hour turn northward to yield some powder. The mountain missed the Megalopitan storm "I" but did get a multi-day powder fest on New Years as a storm retrograted westward out of the Gulf of Maine. This was arguably the best event of the season for the mountain and was meteorologically fascinating since the event caused Champlain induced powder to fall over Burlington to the tune of 3 feet.

There was much anticipation after a quiet end to January since the pattern in early February looked as stormy as any I have ever seen in winter. The pattern was fueled by a plethora of blocking mechanisms across the high latitudes and an extremely energetic southern branch of the jet stream. The blocking was so ferocious that the storm track was forced unusually far to our south. Interestingly, so was the cold weather. Florida was not the place to visit during the winter as frequent outbreaks of intense cold resulted in the coldest winter in over 30 years. At Mad River glen, the cold weather never reached a level we would consider "intense" and although the winter was free of large scale "thaws" temperatures averaged above normal for the season. It was an unusual combination of circumstances to say the least but one that caused back to back major storms across the Mid-Atlantic States in early February. The seasonal snowfalls in cities like Baltimore, MD and Philadelphia climbed to 400 % of normal but much of Vermont continued to be plagued with a snow drought. Not only did MRG miss both Megalopitan events in February, but terrain induced events were non-existent as northern branch jet energy was locked up across Canada and southern branch energy was causing unprecedented snow farther south.

The big event of the winter at MRG occurred late in February. It was a very convoluted system flush with moisture but initially disorganized and ultimately quite mighty but very occluded. The initial burst of snow resulted in a swath of 50 inch totals up the spine of the Berkshires and Green Mountains but as the storm matured, it brought a conveyor of warmth into interior New England while cold advanced east into areas like Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. There were several hours during this event where you could've driven south on the New York State Thruway and the weather would have transitioned from heavy rain to heavy snow. In many ways it underscored the personality of the entire winter as an imaginary line within a few degrees of 40 north seemed to divide areas that received record snow from areas that consistently seemed to receive little snow. The storm in late February was a great one for MRG and would have been epic were it not for that warm intrusion which made conditions very changeable as you moved down the mountain.

In the end an El Nino of moderate strength such as the one that was present for much of the season, combined with the consistent presence of mid latitude cold are certainly the ingredients necessary for a winter such as the one we received. My conventional wisdom was perhaps wish casting for a winter more similar to 1992-1993 or 1977-1978 but the winter turned out to be a more exaggerated version of 1986-1987 or 1987-1988. The year perhaps most similar was 1957-1958. In that winter, record snow hit portions of Maryland and Pennsylvania late in the season in another year where the El Nino was very prevalent.

On a more personal note, I once again enjoyed the opportunity to talk weather to the greatest weather audience perhaps in the world. I felt the quality of the blog perhaps suffered at times since at times I found it challenging to combine my work load with blogging responsibilities. To make a long story short, it was easier to maintain the blog when you are unemployed and in search of things to do. I got a lot of emails, mostly positive and many I never got a chance to respond to. I appreciate the comments even if I never got a chance to craft a response. Enjoy the summer, stay safe think big snow for next winter.

-Josh Fox of the SCWB