What The Experts Say

Hello Everyone –

Now that it seems that cold weather has finally set in over the region, I just thought for my first column of the season, I would check out with some weather experts on what they thought was going to take place this season for skiers and snowboarders in the southeast and mid-Atlantic regions. I know there has been some snowfall throughout the region in the last ten days and the snowguns are operating whenever possible as the majority of the resorts should be open by this weekend. So I just wanted to look out into the future a bit to see how some weatherman felt about the upcoming season. So here goes.

We first spoke with Chief Metorologist Sean Sublett of WSET-TV in Lynchburg/Roanoke, Virginia here are his toughts: As always seasonal outlooks need to be taken with a grain of salt. There is some skill to them, but it is quite limited. An active subtropical jet courtesy of this year’s El Nino suggests more storms will race into the ski resorts of the Middle Atlantic. The big question is how much cold air will be available to bring that precipitation down as snow. There looks to be two peaks to this season: one early, and one late. Despite the milder November in the East, the pattern has quickly shifted early this month, and it looks to bring a substantial period of below-normal temperatures east of the Mississippi River. Coupled with the active subtropical jet, that suggests the snow should begin to fall at a good clip during the first 2-3 weeks of December. After a modest break in the strength of the cold in January, another period of cold is expected to follow for February. So any underdeveloped snow that falls during midwinter should come back into line to close the winter season.

Now let’s check in with Brad Panovich, Chief Meteorologist for WCNC-TV in Charlotte, NC and the main weather contributor to skisoutheast.com, has the following thought: The winter of 2009-20010 is going to be wet and cold, but not always snowy. The biggest factor to this winters forecast will be the impact of a moderate El Nino which will bring a very active southern storm track along the gulf coast up into the Carolinas and then into the Northeast. This is great news because we will see lots of storms and moisture. The bad news is this track often bottles up the cold air further north, but occasionally we will see a surge of cold air that links up with this active storm track to produce a several major snow storms. There will be several marginal events where it’s too warm or the storms will stay east bringing some ice.

Winters in the past with this type of set-up have produced some of the biggest snow storms in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic. The overall forecast will be for colder and snowier than average conditions for the entire southeast especially here in December and again in Feb and March with our usual January thaw. No major arctic outbreaks expected. This winter may go down as the one of the snowiest winters in recent years and be known as the year of the Nor’easter.

Switching now to Spencer Adkins, Chief Meteorologist for WOWK-TV in Charleston, WV and he thinks: The NOAA Climate Prediction Center for "colder and drier" than normal December – February conditions for our area isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Some of the early cold outbreaks have been cold enough to give us some natural snow and plenty of good snow making conditions.

The active southern branch of the jetstream has given us a parade of low pressure centers that can bring us rain or snow. The models here in early December want to show even colder air pushing in behind these which could create more snow than rain for the resorts. Whether that pattern holds or not is the question.

For skiers, the good news is that if the prediction is correct, colder air can mean more light, fluffy snow. If the air is colder it tends to create a higher water-to-snow ratio. That means what might normally be a tenth of an inch of water to create an inch of natural snow, could end up being more like three inches of light, fluffy snow… the kind that’s great to ski on.

Even if we do see fewer snow events and less lake-enhanced snow out of the northwest, those snow guns will be able to take advantage of the cold temperatures and just crank out the snow! So if you hear "colder and drier," don’t panic. It may end up giving you MORE enjoyable days to ski and a nice, deep, "controlled" base to jump on!

We now hear from someone from way down south, Tony Mainolfi, Chief Meteorologist for WESH-TV in Orlando, Florida. This winter of EL Nino will be very beneficial to skiers from Ashville to the Poconos Pennsylvania. As we just saw a nice blanket of snow has already set the tone for what I believe will be a very snowy winter from the lower Appalachians northward through New England.

In an El Nino pattern the southern branch of the jet stream becomes much more active leading to stronger winter storms and many time more of them. The key though for skiers is where does that strom track set up. Right now it appears that that track is going from the NE Gulf of Mexico to the Mid Atlantic to just offshore of NewYork City…A VERY FAVORABLE snow position for ski resorts from North Georgia to Maine. Only time will tell if this track will stay in place. I’m looking for above average snowfall this winter along with excellent skiing conditions so wax those skies and hit those trails. If you see me on the slopes this winter stop me and say hi!

So now you have a little insight as to why playing with seasonal outlooks is like playing with fire on a dry windy day in the middle of a drought. Chances are your going to get burned. Since I am a glass half full kind of guy I will leave you with this. Conditions for Appalachian riding (skiing and boarding) couldn’t be better with a combination of man made and natural snow and below average temperatures.

That’s it for the season’s first column, more to come as the season continues, just remember whether it be cold or whether it be hot, we’ll whether the weather, whatever the weather will be. Think about it! See you on the slopes. 

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Joe Stevens, a member of the southeast ski industry since 1990 is a regular columnist for skisoutheast.com and serves as the Communications Director for the West Virginia Ski Areas Association.

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Joe Stevens
Joe is well known around the southeastern ski circles. Stevens was Director of Communications at Snowshoe Mountain Resort for 16 seasons with another 15 years prior to that in Richmond, Virginia newsrooms. Joe serves on numerous boards and committees and currently is a spokesperson for the West Virginia ski areas.Joe has been a featured columnist on SkiSoutheast since 2005 and has written numerous articles for us, as well as for others promoting all of the southeastern ski resorts. Joe resides in Charleston, West Virginia, with his wife, Angie, and son, Christian. He is an avid snowboarder and marathon runner.