Inversions, Inversions, Inversions!

First Trax

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The 2010-2011 season is only nine days old and so far I think six of the nine days have been "inversion" days. We’ve kind of covered this before but since we received two skiMail inquiries about it I figured it was worth mentioning briefly just what an inversion is. In our case what we’re talking about are temperature or thermal inversions.

Normally, the temperature drops about 4°F for every 1000 feet of altitude rise. That’s why the temperature might normally be 28° on a typical morning at the base of Sugar Mountain and yet 23° at their summit. Sugar’s vertical is 1400′ (the elevation change from top to bottom) so on a normal day you’d see the top of the mountain 4-6° colder than the base. Lately we’ve seen a LOT of early mornings where the base is 3-4° colder the the peak of the mountain. These overnight inversions usually only last for the overnight hours because once the sun comes up it warms that upper layer and the ground picks up radiational warming and somewhere around 9am or so you can almost always see the summit and base temps "meet".

At 7am this morning Sugar’s low temp at the BASE was 40.2°. The low at the Summit would normally, on a non-inversion night be 4-6° colder but instead THIS MORNING it was 46.0° or 6° WARMER at the top of the mountain than the base.

At 8:35am the "meeting in the middle" temps were 48.2° at the summit and 48.5° at the base.

We had some friends calling from Columbia, S.C. last night as we were celebrating the Gamecock’s victory over Florida and during one of the calls our Columbia friends asked, "How cold is it up there (in the mountains) because its cold here (45°)?" The temperature here was – wait for it – 45°. Weird but true.

We see those inversions at every ski area in the region but they’re always pesky for multiple reasons. One is that we look for those colder nighttime temps for the resorts to make snow. During inversions we often see temps such as what we’ve witnessed during six of the first nine days of the season wherein it might be 28° at my office, which is down in the valley between Sugar and Boone, and yet 37° at Sugar and Beech Mountain.

There’s another more-than-pesky byproduct of inversions. Often when there’s precipitation when there’s warmer air at higher elevations than the colder air underneath it – we’ll see freezing rain. The precip in the warmer air aloft falls down through the colder air freezing and creating YUCK.

So more than any other reason these early inversion days and nights are kind of bugging us.

These inversions are short lived once the sun comes up (usually) as during the time that its taken for me to write this story, it is now showing 48.2° at Sugar’s summit and now it is 50.2° at the base. (It is 8:49am.)

This morning we saw almost all of the coldest temperatures being reported from stations at much lower elevations than those at Beech, Cataloochee, Snowshoe, etc.

Let’s hope the pattern changes once we get consistently colder weather.

IT’S SNOWING – again wait for it – in Minneapolis!

What could go down as one of the heaviest snowstorms prior to Thanksgiving in the St. Paul metro area has left roughly a FOOT OF SNOW at some locations. Meanwhile its 49° at Snowshoe and previously mentioned Sugar Mountain and most everywhere in between.

The ten day forecast through Tuesday, November 23rd isn’t looking all that cooperative for a great Thanksgiving round of skiing and snowboarding. A quick glance at the long range forecast for Snowshoe Mountain (where temps are usually a notch colder than most of our Southeast and Mid Atlantic ski areas) shows that we’ll probably not see snowmaking temps until Thursday when lows are forecasted for the mid 20s. Thursday and Friday are still looking snowy-ish with lows in the 20s. After that is looking a tweak mild again so we’ll have to wait and see just how much (if any) Thanksgiving skiing we’ll have available to us. It’s a safe bet that several, more conservative ski areas may not make snow until after Thanksgiving or when they see more consistently colder temperatures come into the region.

We’ve mentioned it before but remember last season didn’t get going until after Thanksgiving and for many ski areas not until mid December. From that point on it was a great winter. Hopefully we’ll see that happen again…or some form of it.


Here’s a quick tease. We’ve had our staff working together on investigating and posting a HUGE story on LOST SKI AREAS of the region. We’ll be posting that this week. Stay tuned!

Be sure to check back often for more photos being posted as well as our video blog. If you have not yet visited our Ski Messageboard Forum you should do so.

We’ll be sharing TONS more input about our plans for this season, but for a little sneak peek visit:  

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