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The Skiing Weatherman Conditions Report: December 26-30

Thursday, December 26, 2013


After a consistently cold run-up to the holidays that allowed resorts across the region to build up base depths and trail counts to their best December levels in years, Mother Nature threw a nasty curveball at us this weekend. A significant shot of warmth was thrust up the eastern seaboard and when it collided with a dome of cold, dense arctic air parked over the Northeast, a battle royale ensued. Several waves of low pressure moved along the slot where the temperature contrast was strongest…from the Ohio Valley through upstate New York and then right across the resorts of northern New England.

At the same time, a strong area of high pressure was parked over Ontario, funneling more low level cold into the region. While the air aloft warmed to above freezing, the cold air at the surface hung tough across much of Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont…a perfect setup for an ice storm. What the northern resorts ended up with was a mix of a little snow and a good deal of sleet and freezing rain. The record warmth experienced over much of the Northeast never reached the northern resorts and the cold air that hung tough helped to preserve the snow on the trails. Rain did fall into the mountains of southern Vermont, but north of that, almost all of the precipitation fell in frozen form. In southern New England, most of the precipitation was in liquid form, with some freezing rain occurring as I write this summary (Monday morning). The precipitation today is confined primarily to southern New England, as the last wave of low pressure rides through the region. By tonight, the system will be offshore and cold weather more to our liking will be returning to the region. At a time like this, it is essential to remember that machine made snow is 5 times as dense as natural snow and it is very effective at fighting off a round of warm, wet weather. A big rehabilitation job will be necessary to restore the nice skiing and riding we had last week, but damage to pre-storm trail counts will be minimal.

Once the cold air digs in, it will be up to the talents and technology of the mountain crews to provide skiers and riders with a pleasurable surface for the holidays. The groomers will break up the firm surfaces and grind any layer of ice into the base to create loose granular snow. If you are skiing or riding before Christmas, loose granular is the surface that will be most common on the slopes, but starting tonight (Monday), the return of arctic air will deliver temperatures cold enough for some heavy-duty snowmaking. Once the guns fire up, they will be cranking out crystals round the clock through the entire week in the northern mountains, so gradually, surfaces will be transformed to more of a packed powder consistency. Closer to home, nighttime snowmaking will be very efficient and effective, and the guns will be going all day on Christmas, when temperatures won’t rise out of the low to mid 20’s across southern New England. By the day after Christmas, the majority of open runs will have been re-surfaced and packed powder will be dominant once again…by next weekend, the snowmakers will be back to the business of opening additional runs.

Now, it would be nice if Mother Nature could make amends for the nasty weather she has delivered the past couple of days by sending along a nice shot of natural snow, but that does not appear to be in the cards. Over the next week or so, a couple of weak systems will run along the U.S./Canadian border and produce a light accumulation of snow in the mountains…the first will come along on Thursday, with another “Alberta Clipper” a good bet next weekend…that disturbance will be followed by another spell of great snowmaking temperatures. There is some potential for the second system to connect with energy in the southern branch of the jet stream to form a more significant low along the coast, and if that comes to pass, we could be in line for a more significant snowfall. If that storm threat starts to grow, I will address it in my video report on Thursday afternoon. In the meantime, the past couple of days could have been much worse for holiday skiing and riding, and starting on Monday night/Tuesday, conditions will now be improving each and every day this week.

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