01-05-2012, 02:21 PM
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: Front Range
It may not be early to be worried about the season at all. This year is tracking along to be one of the worst on record.
Tony Crocker has a bit of a historical analysis up at Firsttracks
Here is his breakdown.
At Tahoe this year is second worst to 1976-77. Mammoth has a bit more snow than Tahoe now but had less in the other 3 seasons. All 3 of the above seasons were worse than now at Mammoth and another 3 (1989-90, 1990-91 and 1999-2000) were similar to now. 5th percentile Christmas at Tahoe and 10th percentile at Mammoth
1976-77 and 1980-81 were much worse than this year and 1986-87 was about the same. 10th percentile Christmas.
1976-77 was worse than this year and 1980-81 about the same. 5th percentile Christmas.
Southwest (San Juans and NM):
As we know, these areas are doing OK (Durango and Telluride) or even above average (Wolf Creek and NM) this season. However these areas have had very severe droughts (worse than I-70 this year) through New Year's in 1976-77, 1980-81, 1989-90 and 1999-2000.
U.S. Northern Rockies:
In Jackson 1976-77, 1979-80, 1986-87 and 2009-10 were worse than this year and 1997-98 was about the same. It's snowing there now, so maybe a 15th percentile Christmas. For those with weather paranoia about Christmas, Targhee is remarkable. 1976-77 with 78 inches and 1986-87 with 76 inches are the only seasons with less than 110 inches snowfall before New Years. 130 inches so far this season, not sure if a bit inflated by including October.
For the areas farther north I have no November data for those earlier seasons. But current percents of normal snowfall are slightly worse than at Jackson, so 15th percentile seems right for everywhere but Schweitzer, which was on the November storm track between the Pacific Northwest and Canada.
At Bachelor 1976-77 had only 10 inches before New Year's; second worst season was 49 inches in 1989-90. 5 other seasons were below the ~80 inches this year, but 1980-81 and 1986-87 had more. Washington State and Whistler had no snow the first 3 weeks of December but had a good November, ~3 feet this week and all areas are now above average. At Mt. Rainier (season average 633 inches) the 41 inches in 1976-77 was the only season with less than 97 inches (1989-90) before New Year's. Whistler has no early season data for 1976-77 but has continuous data since 1980-81. 77 inches in 1989-90 and 82 inches in 2004-05 are the only pre-New Year's totals under 100 inches.
The Rest of Western Canada:
The lowest pre-New Year's total at Mt. Fidelity in Glacier National Park (season average 483) is 113 inches! Lift serviced snow reliability is less impressive. At Fernie the worst starts in 25 years of data were 54 inches in 2000-01 and 59 inches in 1985-86 with 6 other seasons under 100 inches. At Sunshine the Nov+Dec average is only 90 inches, so interesting that the worst seasons are 47 inches in 2000-01 and 49 inches in 1985-86. This year the areas near the U.S. border are slightly below average while those farther north are above average.
1976-77 was in a class by itself as a Western skiing disaster. All regions except interior western Canada were severely impacted. Furthermore the season stayed bad in California and Colorado all year and in the other regions until mid-February.
1980-81 was worse than this year because the Southwest was bad too and Colorado and Utah were somewhat worse then, offsetting the Northern Rockies being better.
1986-87 is a very close analogy to this season in terms of which regions are bad and to what degree. I-70 Colorado was somewhat better in 1986-87 than now but the Southwest was below average then vs. average+ now.
The Pacific Northwest and especially western Canada tend to be independent of these widespread western droughts. These regions can have bad years too, but they are not that likely to be the same seasons that California and/or the U.S. Rockies are in trouble. The northern regions also tend to get a higher proportion of their snow early season vs California, Utah and Colorado.
Overall 2011-12 is tied for 3rd worst Christmas in the West of the past 45 years. Eastern snowfall is completely independent of western long term. I'd guess the eastern Christmas is 25th percentile judging that 2001-02 and 2006-07 were at least as bad. Put the East and West together and it is indeed a horror show.