The Rest of the Season is “Forecasted” Right Here – Right Now – Sort of!

As promised, here’s the latest information that we can share in hopes of answering a ton of emails asking, in one form or another, “When will winter return?”

Sit back, grab your coffee or hot chocolate, turn off all distractions and pay attention.  Class has begun and it’s going to be a long one. 

To answer your many questions, we enlisted the support of many experts in the business of meteorology. Thanks go to Brad Panovich of WCNC NBC 6 in Charlotte, Jeffrey Crum of News 14 in Charlotte for sending me some material on Friday.  Also I should mention that I am meetings with Meteorologist, Joe Murgo of WTAJ Television in Altoona, Pennsylvania; Paul Goodloe of The Weather Channel, and Herb Stevens (better known as The Skiing Weatherman).  These guys KNOW the weather.

This article could be a bit on the long side, so for those who want to skip my “novel”, the summarized version of this article could be done in this way – We’re thinking that we’ll get some real shots of cold and snow over the next few weeks, but other than a few cold and snowy periods, we COULD be punching our tickets for some additional rides on the roller coaster style weather that we’ve experienced for the last few weeks.

For those wanting more…read on! As a means of illustrating (and having some fun) we’re going to pretend that we’re in a “weather debate” although these guys don’t usually debate.  If you’ve ever been around a group of meteorologists they all relate their opinions in such a way that you get the feeling that they’d tell you THE WHOLE STORY — but then they’ve have to kill you.  Almost like THEY EACH have a secret that only they can really discern and that while the others are “close” – they’ve got the real data.

Before I upset all of my meteorologist friends, they really ARE all great people and they’d be the first to tell you that what I just said was not quite the way it really is. (Then they’d whisper something into their lapel microphones! Just k-i-d-d-i-n-g!)

If the average person was to sit down and read the technically-riddled data that meteorologist live for, we’d come away with thoughts like, “what the HECK did I just read?” So we’re going to TRY to translate into (hopefully) easier lingo.  Hear we go!

The first entry we’ll relate is from Brad Panovich of WCNC Charlotte.  Brad emailed me Friday. He said, “I have been looking into the pattern changes, (and) while it’s hard to say it’s going to be snowy it easier to see if it will be colder or warmer than average. It really looks like it going o be much colder as we head into February.  Looking at the mid and long term models, Arctic air is starting to build up in the Yukon territories of Canada. Air that is about -30 Celsius! Which makes sense that it would then moves east and south right about the time we get into next month. If you’ve followed world weather patterns you know Europe, and now Asia has been hit with record breaking cold and snow.”

Okay that does sound promising.  According to Brad, et al, we will be mild from now through the end of the month and then around the first of the month, we’ll see some cold air.  Dr. Ray Russell, of Ray’s Weather seems to echo that in his daily posts of the last few days.  Even though Ray isn’t a meteorologist, he goes on a little further by stating, “… next week, the seeds of change will be planted in the Pacific and Western Canada for a significant pattern shift that will lead to colder weather beginning around Feb 1. Snow lovers just hang on for a while; we’ll have our chances once we make it to February. “

When I bring up those kinds of comments to my meteorologist friends, they scrunch up their faces as if they’ve bitten into a lemon and respond with things like, “Uhhhh, I—don’t—know— if I’d say t—h—a—t.”

Before I get to their statements, let me finish up Brad Panovich’s ammo by mentioning that Brad shared the content that you can find at http://www.breitbart.com/news/2006/01/19/060119141837.r0tg2976.html

He also finalized his information by saying, “It appears this cold air is heading towards North America as it works its ways around the globe. The unanswered question is it just going to be cold or will there be a couple of snow storms? Not sure yet but historically the biggest snow storms in the Southeast are in February and March so timing is right and I would much rather have the cold air first and then worry about moisture and low pressure systems later. Those are easier to get than the cold air.”

Brad was somewhat non-committal about anything other than COLD air is heading around the globe and towards the United States.  That’s definitely great news.  We’ll take whatever we can get.

Next, we’ll touch on what the data that Brad sent related to us. It basically used a lot of terminology that I have to believe is meant to confuse “normal people” like you and I. (Kind of like a doctor’s prescriptions.)  A found two excerpts that jumped out of the volumes of content.

The first one was – that the weather for February through April has – and I quote, “ELSEWHERE THERE ARE EQUAL CHANCES OF WARMER-THAN… COOLER-THAN OR NEAR-NORMAL TEMPERATURES DURING FMA.”

…and they WONDER WHY we poke fun at them!  That forecast guarantees success.

The Second excerpt was a lot more committal when they related to –  “expect warmer than normal temperatures in the mid-Atlantic region for February and March.”

Anyone confused yet? Come on, raise your hand! Don’t be bashful.  Yea, I figured there were more than a few of you.  Keep reading.

Next I will impart what Jeffret Crum of News 14 in Charlotte emailed me on Friday.  Jeff’s simple statement was, “We’ll see if this pans out…   not looking too good.”

Jeff sent me two links to support his one-liner.  The first was a link to some graphics that provided some prediction as to what NOAA is saying about the chances for  precipitation and temperatures for the next 30 days. The way I read the maps, it “told ME” that there’s a good chance of ABOVE normal precipitation and ABOVE normal temps.

The problem with MY reading of those maps is that even though the maps present the data with the ABOVE AVERAGE map coloring for the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic…it ALSO has the letters “EC” right on them.  “EC” means equal chances.  Doesn’t EQUAL CHANCES mean that there’s equal chances that it will be colder and drier…or colder and snowier…or colder with beautiful women throwing snow at us from the heavens?  Okay there’s probably NO chance of the latter entry, but you get my drift.

The second link that Jeffrey sent me alluded to the same information that Brad sent, which relates to the confusing, “maybe it will and maybe it won’t content.”

Here’s the links.  Maybe some of you weather practitioners can relate to it.

http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/predictions/30day/
 
http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/predictions/long_range/fxus05.html

I was dining with Joe Murgo of WTAJ Television last night as a small group of us met before all of the media weekend events started up on Saturday.  Some of you who have followed this website for years will remember early last season when I related about having breakfast with Joe Murgo of WTAJ and Paul Goodloe of THE WEATHER CHANNEL.  When most of the winter predictions of LAST SEASON were forecasting a colder and snowier winter than normal…Murgo and Goodloe were telling me to ignore those predictions.  My brother-in-law, Bob Comer, Goodloe, Murgo and I were having breakfast together and I’ll never forget the look on my brother-in-law’s face when they told us of THEIR forecast for the winter.  The point is – they nailed the forecast, which included the slow start, the struggle to keep snow on the slopes AND the chances for some strong snow storms in February and March.  All will remember that we had some of the sweetest DEEP POWDER conditions that the Southeast has seen towards the end of last season.

When we were talking “weather” last night over dinner, Joe Murgo alluded to the same information as I detailed above wherein there is HUGE amounts of frigid air that is making its way in this direction.  So we have some agreement.

What seems to be still in question is whether or not that cold air is signaling a PATTERN change.

When you keep in mind that most every single weather nut considers SNOW as one of the most exciting ingredients then you can understand it when they tend to push forecasts towards more snow than might actually happen.  Also most of their viewers want snow and they don’t want to disappoint.

Ray Russell stated on his update the other day, “Next week, the seeds of change will be planted in the Pacific and Western Canada for a significant pattern shift that will lead to colder weather beginning around Feb 1. Snow lovers just hang on for a while; we’ll have our chances once we make it to February.”

While the above statement might excite skiers, you have to pay close attention to the part that says “we’ll have our chances.”

Nobody is questioning whether or not we will get some cold snaps and some snow.  What we ALL want is a change in pattern to something much more like this – cold temps preferably in the 30s for highs and teens for lows. Snow about every Tuesday (a foot will do) and then nice blue skies Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  That way the roads are clear for the novice, tourist drivers and the resorts will get the skier volume they need.  That would be the perfect weather pattern.  Absent of that, at least give us a pattern of sustained cold and some snow, with only a day at a time of mild temps. (Kind of the reverse of what’s been happening.)

So far this winter from Mid-November through December 22nd or so all of the Southeast’s resorts saw colder than normal snow with good natural snowfall to boot. While we’ve had some periods of snow and cold…those have been a day or two at a time – followed by sustained MILD days…and some rain most recently.

In fact in the last five weeks, we’ve seen four or five actual bursts of COLD air and snow out of that have made up approximately eight of the last 30+ days.  That has allowed for the magic of our region’s snowmakers to take place.  Conditions have maintained pretty darned nice.  Right now we are experiencing the worst conditions of the season and they are not too bad.  Yes, there are a few bare areas and more than a few thin coverage areas but there is plenty of skiable terrain…and to date resorts have not had to close many slopes at all.  That is a testament to the improved technology of snowmaking AND to the devoted monetary investment of the ski areas to the science of snowmaking systems.  WISP RESORT in Maryland may have the most impressive and comprehensive snowmaking process in the region.  They can crank out 16000 gallons of water EVERY MINUTE and create 4800 TONS of snow per HOUR. People that is NINE MILLION, SIX HUNDRED THOUSAND POUNDS of snow PER HOUR.  Snowshoe Mountain and Wintergreen Resort in Virginia also have impressive snowmaking systems.  Actually ALL of the Southeast’s resorts do a great job of making snow or else you wouldn’t be reading this website…cause there would be no snow on the slopes.

As an example of the “magic of snowmaking” – our temperatures in the High Country area of Boone, Banner Elk, etc (and also for MUCH of the Southeast) has been almost SEVEN DEGREES warmer than normal. Ray Russell actually made a great football analogy when he claimed that his forecast for the 2005-2006 Forecast is “Three touchdowns behind at the Half” – which ends January 31st.

The second half will kick off February 1st and as Ray comically but accurately stated, “The game won’t be over at the half, but we’ll need to score quickly.” We’ll need to see some long bombs thrown.

Herb Stevens (The Skiing Weatherman) has updated his report on the Southeast’s change of weather patterns several times since late December. Late in December he began stating that changes in the pattern were already kicking in and that we’d see significant cold, snow etc. (Check the messageboard as “ParisandDrewsDaddy” has been pasting those reports for all to see every few days on the board.)

January 6th Herb posted an update saying, “Over the next couple of weeks, I look for a gradual cooling trend overall, with the threat of the cold air diving in and taking over more dramatically later in Week Two…between the 15th and 20th.”  Not to pick on ole Herb, but that wasn’t the opinion of many forecasters and it didn’t happen.

On January 10th, Herb changed his tune…and also got it right. He said, “For the past couple of weeks, I have been touting the return of colder air to the eastern part of the United States, and while I still feel as though it will come, I am now of the belief that those of us hoping for consistent cold will have to wait a little longer.”

He also correctly forecasted the weather for MLK weekend.

On January 13th Herb Wrote, “Just a few words about the rest of the season…it is not over, by any means. The two winters that are the best matches for what we have seen thus far are 1995-96 and 1933-34. Both of those winters were colder than normal in the February-March time frame, and that is what I expect to be the case this season…like 2005, this winter will be back loaded in terms of consistent cold and snow. In January 1996, there was a dramatic thaw in the east, but, if you remember, that season was the one that saw seasonal snowfall records set from the Mid Atlantic through New England. I am not forecasting that, but I am confident that skiers and riders will find the second half of the season much more to their liking…in the meantime, the roller coaster ride continues…”

Ah ha!  We have someone willing to stick their neck out!  THANKS HERB!  Whew!  I was more depressed with every key-stroke!

Herb Stevens just released his latest missive YESTERDAY and he is here with us at Wisp Resort and here’s what Herb is saying. 

“Well, the change (in weather pattern) is underway already…slowly but surely. As has been the case for a couple of weeks, Canada continues to cool down. The western third of the country is now below normal, and the rest of the country is getting close to normal again. Meanwhile, over the North Pole, in Asia, it is extremely cold, and it has been for many weeks now, and a piece of that extreme cold has worked its way into Alaska. Central Asia is one of the spots that I look at for early signs of cold air invading our part of the U.S. When an upper level ridge starts to develop in that part of the world, that is a sign that a connection over the pole may be in the works…a connection that eventually gives us our coldest weather. Other factors have to cooperate in order to put the delivery mechanism fully into place…upper level ridging must also develop in the arctic regions, preferably over Greenland and Iceland. When North Atlantic ridging combines with a trough near the Azores, the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) is in its’ negative phase, which correlates very strongly with colder than normal weather in the eastern U.S., especially in the months of February, March, and April. A negative NAO tends to direct cold air into the eastern U.S. and it also promotes east coast storm formation. The water off the northeast coast is still warmer than normal, and I believe that will play a big role in February’s weather, because any storm that heads across that water will benefit from the added energy that the heat provides, and I think we’ll see some significant snowstorms in the period from early February through March.”

Okay, here and SkiNC and SkiSoutheast we are going to HAVE to hang our hat on one of these long term forecasts and we’re going to go with the one that says February and March will be the best months of the season.  December was nice.  January didn’t stink but it has been frustrating.  We like believing that February and March will be great.

An unofficial ballot of attendees here at the 1st Annual Wisp Media Weekend all agree with me…it will be snowy and cold for the next 60 days.

Before you guys give us heck for simply going with a forecasters that is telling us what we WANT to happen…we think it’s better than going with the National Weather Service’s “Equal Chances of Cold or Warm” and “Equal Chances of Wetter or Drier.”  We already KNOW that forecast is missing something.

In closing, we have one more (yep I’m not through just yet) point that HAS to be made!

Manmade Snow is REAL SNOW –

Some people ask us WHY there is snow on the slopes when it’s been so mild.  Some relate of how quickly snow melts in their own back yard and they wonder how the heck resorts can still have so much base.  The reason isn’t that complicated.

1. Manmade snow is much more dense that God’s version.

2. The ground temperatures in the mountains and particularly on the ski slopes is MUCH COLDER than your backyard.

When you guys receive snow, depending on where you live, the ground temp could be 50-60 degrees.  The ground temps up here ARE MUCH COLDER and with the added influence of the snow on the slopes in the quantity that it is — it literally CREATES its own climate.

Herb Stevens said it best in his latest missive by saying, “If you ever had any doubts about the resilient nature of machine made snow, the past 3 weeks have provided the best example in recent memory as to just how tough the stuff really is. Since the major snowmaking effort of December, the bases of the east have been rained on repeatedly, been enshrouded in fog on a number of occasions, been glazed by freezing rain and sleet, and every so often, been refreshed by either light snow, or an overnight coating of new machine made crystals. During that time, the traffic from one long holiday week and another long weekend has taken its toll, as well. Nevertheless, trail counts have held just about steady since hitting their peak in late December.”

Right on Herb!

He also reminded us, “Those of you old enough to remember what life on the slopes was like before the snowmaking revolution can imagine how little open terrain there would be right now without the snow guns…those of you a little younger…take my word for it…you’d be out of luck for skiing or riding.”

With that we’ll sign off by saying, “THINK COLD FIRST, THEN SNOW!”

Until Next Time!

Be sure to check out www.SkiSoutheast.com for more news and stories for all of the Southeast’s ski areas.

Be sure to email photos, snow reports and comments to: [email protected]

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Mike Doble
Mike is the Editor and founder of SkiSoutheast.com, SkiNC.com and ResortCams.com. Since September 1996 he has posted more than 13,000 posts, articles, photos and videos promoting all of the ski areas of North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland.Mike is the father of four daughters, is an avid skier and enjoys golf, tennis, kayaking and hiking in the mountains. Winter snowsports and Summer boating on Watauga Lake are among his favorite pastimes.