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Saturday, April 19, 2014

2013-2014: A cold winter with a satisfying finish

The winter 2013-2014 is reaching a conclusion and if nothing else has earned a distinctiveness that should set it apart in our memory. 2011-12 will be remembered for all the wrong reasons and 2012-2013 was hardly distinctive at all. 2013-2014 however was remarkable in many ways. Most notable is the persistent cold. The period starting November 1st and ending March 31st was approximately 4 degrees below average and every month within that period was below average, culminating in March which was nearly 10 below average. All of those 3 occurrences are statistically impressive. The winter of 2013-14 defined by those 5 months is the coldest in over a quarter century and going back 50 years, only the winter of 2002-2003 featured 5 months of below normal temperatures in succession. March of 2014 was truly the grand finale. Relative to normal, it was the coldest in Vermont since the commencement of the blog 10 years ago. 

For some of our recent down years, the cold has been the missing ingredient in the weather pattern. This was not the case for much of 2013-14 but in spite of that, we had some struggles on the snow side that seemed to become statewide household knowledge. Every discussion relating to the weather seemed to refer to Vermont's lack of snow relative to the rest of the geographic world. This was very much an intuitive observation and was made by some very casual weather observers to say the least, even from people outside the state.  Intuition or not, the observation proves to be quite astute statistically in a relative sense, and is the 2nd most notable characteristic of the recent winter. Consider New York City receiving 56 inches of snow, Philadelphia 66", Detroit 94" and Chicago 81" all between 180 and 300 percent of normal. In the case of Michigan, many locations saw the snowiest winter ever recorded. Thanks to a big late season push, Vermont also saw above average snowfall but it wasn't by much and we were below average for the first two-thirds of the season. The big snow season in the Great Lakes region compared to the near normal season in Vermont I find particularly strange since the two regions are often on the receiving end of the same big storms, evidenced by the recent winters of 2010-2011 and 2007-2008. 

In spite of this, the season finished on a strong note and ranked better than the previous two. The mountain saw no rain in March until the very end of the month and only witnessed three 40-degree days. Compare that to 2012 which saw near 80-degree temperatures and a quick end to a miserable season by the early to middle part of the month. In a relative sense, we performed poorly but it was a solid season statistically that continues for portions of the high country both in Vermont and New Hampshire. 

There were two very important factors driving the particularly intense cold weather this season. I always tell people that from the standpoint of temperature, a winter is measured by the strength of the cold during the coldest periods. Outbreaks of cold this past winter were especially strong relative to normal and exceeded almost anything we have seen since January 2004. There will be differing opinions as to what root cause prevailed on the atmosphere during the winter but my opinion is that one relates to a feedback that started early last autumn. An unusually high build-up of early-mid autumn snow in the northern hemisphere helped the pooling efficiency of the polar air masses at high latitudes. The cold air effectively worked its way into mid-latitude North America early in the year, freezing the Hudson Bay on the earliest date in a decade and ultimately freezing 80 percent of the Great Lakes aggregate by late January. Freezing large bodies of water such as the Hudson Bay or the Great Lakes turns them into an additional breeding ground for cold. I felt as if almost every cold front this winter marked the leading edge of not just garden variety cold, but extreme cold of 20-30 degrees below average. The outbreak of cold and snow we received this past April 16th underscores this point. 

The second factor refers to a much talked about topic in recent winters the "Evil Empire". The "Evil Empire" coined a few years ago describes the phenomena of large upper trough over large upper ridge in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. The tightened jet stream which results from such an occurrence is so destructive for all of eastern ski country including Vermont and it was especially destructive during all of 2011-2012 and for a large portion of 2012-2013. There is a teleconnection index that essentially measures the strength of the "Evil Empire" called the Eastern Pacific Oscillation. A positive index indicates tightness in the Pacific Jet and the presence of the "EE" while a negative index refers to a looseness in the jet over the Pacific and the absence of the "EE". In spite of a flare-up here and there, the "Evil Empire" was largely a non-factor and the predominant feature in the up-stream jet configuration was a large upper ridge covering Alaska. There were interruptions but the Alaskan ridge was an incredibly persistent force throughout the winter, channeling cold from that region, straight into the middle part of North America, specifically the central provinces of Canada and the Midwest. The cold attacked the northeast as well but the brunt of it was felt across the central third of North America. The Alaskan ridge was a welcome change from winters of recent past but still at times was the catalyst for a detrimental storm track. The most ideal storm track for interior New England places a ridge over the western part over the Yukon or even the Northwest Territories of Canada. The placement of the ridge so far west allowed storms to ride up through the Great Lakes on several occasions both in late December and then again in that devastating thaw we saw between January 10th and 14th. The aforementioned January thaw was especially destructive since it consisted of nearly 80 hours of above-freezing temperatures there was no quick recovery to be found "In the wake of the flood" (Small GD reference but necessary since I am listening to some random GD concert as I write this). 

Ultimately the cold won the day and the months of February and March. The long wave pattern was able to flatten just enough to allow storms to take a more favorable track for snow across interior New England. The two big storms basically occurred exactly a month apart and on the anniversary of two of our favorite snow blitzes of the last quarter century. The first was a big, moist coastal bomb on Valentines Day and the second came at us from the Ohio Valley and occurred on March 12/13. Both delivered snowfall amounts just shy of 2 feet and produced outstanding stretches of skiing at MRG. 

We finally have some hard-earned warm weather to enjoy and with that the SCWB signs off for another season. I was fortunate enough to ski at MRG 8-days this winter (more than the previous two) and met some more great people. If you read the blog but typically ski or ride elsewhere you should certainly make plans to visit MRG in 2014-2015. It's a special place, especially in an era where skiing has experienced some hyper-commercialization. Enjoy the summer everyone, we will meet again come late this fall. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

MRG season to conclude with warm temperatures, soft snow and mostly rain-free

I have to confess I am a little tuned out on winter and snow thus the blog got a bit neglected. In spite of that, and the recent stretch of above-freezing days, deep snow remains across the high country of interior New England. MRG appears to be skiing quite nicely in spite of some recent rains and if you have been waiting for that sunny, good visibility day to attack the spring skiing then your wait will soon be over. Both Wednesday and Thursday should feature healthy doses of sunshine and warm afternoon temperatures, particularly Thursday where readings should climb into the 50's. Clouds will be more prevalent and we could see some light rain Thursday night or Friday but it shouldn't amount to much.

This brings us to the conclusion of the season at MRG and the weather appears as if it will cooperate. Clouds will gradually give way to some sunshine early Saturday, visibility will improve and temperatures will surge toward the 50-degree mark. On Sunday, clouds and moisture associated with a stronger push of warm temperatures will skirt northern New England but I think much of the wet weather will be confined to the St Lawrence Valley. There remains some disagreement amongst the models regarding this question but my educated guess is that the mountain stays dry although there could be more in the way of clouds. Once again, Sunday's temperatures should at least approach the 50 degree mark.

MRG will end its season Sunday, just in time for some 60 degree temperatures Monday followed by heavy rain possibly thunderstorms Monday night or Tuesday. A strong push of below normal temperatures along with some snow is then likely for the middle of the week. I know the skiing will continue for some but the blog will conclude with a final season wrap-up early next week.