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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Winter 2016-17: A fun ride that at times made us a little nausious

Another season in the books and what a ride it was. A little bit of frustration, a little bit of elation and though certainly not a winter for the ages, we came out alright in the end. The bar was set very low following the Super Nino catastrophe of 2015-2016 and although we tasted some of the same pain that was inflicted upon us in that winter, 2016-17 turned out to be very different and certainly much better. The biggest difference was the elimination of the dreaded snow hole which terrorized Vermont skiers during 2015-16. Vermont was in fact, one of the best places to be for snowfall in the northeast receiving a healthy share of storms and we were reintroduced to a nearly forgotten concept of the Champlain enhanced terrain induced snowfall.  I mean, I myself had about forgotten all the pleasures of living in the mountains downwind of Lake Champlain and all of ski country benefited copiously.  

The traditional winter ski season at MRG stretches 17-18 weeks starting in early to mid December and ending in early to mid April. During most of this span we were dealing with some pretty tough headwinds. The prevailing pattern was, for a majority of the winter season pretty lousy and temperatures were almost as mild as last season once you crunch all the numbers. For 8 of those weeks, the skiing was incredible. We had two weeks in December, 3 spanning the period in late January into the first half of February and another 3 during the month of March into April fools day. Even during those interludes of terrific winter weather, it wasn’t especially cold except for isolated stretches of a few days. In March, we finally recorded a below normal temperatures month which was the first in two years (during the winter) and remarkably, actual temperatures were lower than February, an occurrence that  happens perhaps once in 75 years. For those 8 weeks though , we really brought it.  Of the nearly 250 inches of snow that fell this year on MRG, three quarters of it fell in that consolidated stretch.  

Going into December, just knowing that we had the Super Nino quashed was reason for optimism. Still the inability to sustain below normal temperatures through the summer and fall in any material way was a legitimate concern and was expressed as such in the preseason outlook. This tendency in fact, held through much of the winter largely because of the Arctic Oscillation which maintained a positive index for over 80 percent of the season. The Arctic Oscillation isn't the be all end all of teleconnection indices but from a big picture standpoint, it is the best overall measure of blocking in the jet stream at high latitudes. It is after all, the blocking, which is the best way to sustain cold across the middle latitude climates. Vermont can still can get cold without it and we did in several instances, but the winter as a whole was very mild and the mainly positive AO would be the culprit before anything else. Without the AO we were dependent on a loose jet in the Pacific and a positive Pacific-North American or PNA index which we only received intermittently.  The pattern was in generally speaking dominated by zonal flow and lots of storminess in the Pacific, especially in California. The Lake Tahoe ski resorts think they might be skiing until the 4th of July thanks to the nearly 500 inches of snow that fell over the resorts this winter. The glory in the Sierra Nevada high country however proved to painful for ski areas south of 40 N latitude  in eastern North America who suffered through long stretches of mild weather and received very little snowfall the few times it was cold. Vermont faired much better and benefited from the personality of the winter which consisted of more snowfall the farther north you went.  

By the first week in December, we knew that our winter would not go the way of 2015-2016. A large blocking feature emerged in the Bering Sea and a relatively tight jet in the Pacific loosened considerably. Snowfall came almost instantly and much of it was the terrain induced variety from Lake Champlain. By December 10th we were blanketed with over 3 feet of relatively fluffy snowfall and were immersed in a elongated stretches of sub-freezing temperatures. It proved to be one of the better such stretches of the season amazingly which is unusual for December. Most of the Vermont ski country was opened for business early in December and Mad River followed with an opening on the 2nd full weekend of the month. The cold air associated with the Bering sea block peaked around December 16th with an airmass that brought temperatures on Mt Washington to –35 F, one of the coldest readings I have seen there in several years. The large Bering Sea block which was the catalyst behind that nice stretch of December weather broke down by the Winter Solstice and at no point during the rest of the winter did we see a large blocking feature of the same magnitude. Rain and ice arrived by the 18th of the month and most of the holiday period was spent in a defensive posture, while snow piled up across the west.  

Mild weather continued into the first few days of 2017 and was followed by a widespread outbreak of cold between January 5th and 9th that somewhat snuck up on eastern North America. The absence of any jet stream blocking feature allowed the cold to escape rather quickly before snow of any significance reinvigorated the rather "crusty" conditions. The middle of January didn't feature record warmth but the pattern was dominated by a zonal flow and a powerful Pacific Jet that unloaded an amazing amount of snow on the Sierra Nevada range and other parts of the intermountain west. MRG stayed open and was dangling by a thread for several days during the middle of the month yet maintained a relatively healthy base above 3000 feet that proved useful as time went along. One of the more significant precipitation producing storms of the month impacted the region around the time of the 23rd 24th of Jan. Temperature profiles were marginal and in the end, the mountain ended up receiving several inches of sleet. It was a disappointing result but it laid the foundation for what became an outstanding stretch of winter. It began Thursday the 26th with an elevation snowfall that yielded 6-8 inches and this was followed 5 more inches of the Champlain stuff Friday night and several more inches during the weekend.  

The first two weeks of February featured a weakened Pacific Jet, a tenuous ridge in western North America and some of the best skiing of the year in Vermont. The snow piled up rather impressively, not all at once but in several 5-10 powder days. We had a brief several hour period of rain on February 8th but aside from that, the first 17 days of February stayed below freezing and the snow was plentiful. Adding the last few days of January into this 3 week stretch, the mountain received 5 feet of snow between January 26th and February 16th and I remember the mountain declaring for the first time in 2 years "We are 100 percent open"! The best storm in that stretch came February 12th and 13th which was roughly an 18 incher.  We got side swiped by another storm later in the week that provided another 6-10 inches and made for some terrific skiing for the first part of the President's Day holiday. Ominous signs loomed however and though I certainly suggested some rough times ahead, I totally underestimated how incredibly bad it became.  

The last 10 days of February is often when some of the best skiing is there to be had at MRG.  By February 11th , it certainly appeared that the holiday week following President's Day would not feature such conditions. In spite of this, the mild weather appeared like it would be somewhat short lived and ultimately replaced by a more productive pattern to close out the month. What happened was a complete abomination. Some mild weather around President's Day proved only to foreshadow a catastrophically warm period that began on the 21st. Lingering arctic air in Quebec or even a layer of cloudiness couldn’t save us. Mild air fully enveloped the region and not only was every day above freezing, it blew away expectations. Temperatures on the mountain exceeded 50 on 5 different days and when combined with the wind and the heavy rain on the 25th, our deep snow was obliterated.  

March 1st featured temperatures 30 above normal and there was legitimate "nail in the coffin" fear. There was the promise of a much more favorable pattern but a very dismissive form of cynicism emanated from the Mad River Glen community. Temperatures were 25 below normal on March 4th but accompanied by plenty of bare ground ! A potential storm during the middle of the first full week of March turned into another mini washout and this was followed by one of the most intense blasts of arctic air of the season March 11th accompanied again by hardly any snow ! At this point however we had our eyes gazed at a storm system poised to blast the northeast corridor with winter weather. It was apparent the storm would be a substantial event quite early and furthermore MRG was certainly in position to be on the receiving end of some of the goodies. That said, models suggested a bigger hit in coastal cities and even an 8-14 inch storm could have fallen short of what was needed to reopen the mountain for business. The SCWB fumbled the football a bit on the intensity of the February thaw, but remained a believer in the potential of the pattern in March and the possibility of getting "bullseyed" by the March 14th event. It was "Game of Thrones" style drama, season 6 to be specific since the rest of the seasons had crap endings. With time winding down on the clock, models shifted the track of the storm 100 miles west and just like that we were free to fly. The March 14th storm started right at daybreak, slammed the Green Mountains with 3 inch an hour snowfall rates during the evening and continued right through March 15 enabling MRG to score 30-plus inches. It certainly ranked as one of the best since the inception of the blog back in 2004.  Cold weather continued for several days in the wake of the storm and allowed for skiing enjoyment into the ensuing weekend. Additional snow and another arctic blast around March 22 provided an additional powdery window.   

Temperatures warmed somewhat during the last few days of March and into the first full week of April. The snow was slow to melt however and allowed for skiable terrain until the weekend of April 8th and 9th.  By the end of the season, snowfall in most areas, particularly in the high country, was above average and I know a few hearty  souls continue to make turns with the cornhorn firmly in hand as of late April. I know there were some rough times, but I'll take a winter like this over a few other the blog has presided over. A highly favorable pattern never really seemed to materialize but the marginally favorable ones allowed for 7-8 incredible weeks. Hopefully we can achieve the same type of success in terms of snowfall next season but without the prolonged interruptions. Enjoy the summer folks and sorry for the delay ! 


David said...

Josh, have you any thoughts on an El Nino next year? Or is it too early to talk about that yet?

Anyway, thanks for blogging, and have a great summer!

tamer said...

thank you for the commentary. That February thaw was so painful, especially after the 40+ inches we had at Burke the week before President's day. but overall i had some legit full on pow daw day. In fact the ratio of powder days to arctic cold days was very favorable this year.

Jeff said...

Even with the season in the rear view, I eagerly devoured this last-of-the-winter post. And even when things looked bleakest this season, your posts kept me going. Yes, being a MRG skier is at times its own brand of masochism, it definitely has its own brand of pleasure. Your review brought some of that back (although you under appreciated how great 4/8-9 was.)

John Aktander said...

Another great blogging season! Always look forward to your post's and commentary! Enjoy the summer!

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Kevin Schroeder said...

The memories of Stella will be savored for a long long time. Ka-pow!

Dan Morse said...

Josh, thank you so much for your dogged and devoted service this season to the benefit of both MRG and Bush skiers. I look forward to your posts resuming next season!

Keith Kogut said...

Thanks Josh, despite on being on the west side of Lake Champlain, I really appreciate your posts!

upsidedn said...

Thank You. Thank You. Thank You. Your posts are part of what makes the MRV so wonderful!

JTDsurf said...

As a great man once said, A winner is just a Loser who tried one more time. We who live up here can always remain optimistic that just around the corner, all the pieces will come together. On those magical days in March and a few other times this past season, we believed it was possible. Just have to keep getting out of bed and head to the mountain because you never know what you will find. Almost time to hike and bike, we can do that once the mud season is done with us.

CJM from CNJ said...

Not really a good winter, but if you were lucky or were able to time it right there was some epic skiing, as I was fortunate to have done. 3 really good weekends in VT. Only got 2 days at MRG but they were great. The rest I spent at Killington and Pico. Thanks for all your hard work for us skiers. We really appreciate it. Let's all pray for a good winter next year and have a safe and happy summer.

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