World Snow News 55

Update for December 12th 2008

Welcome to the second snow update from the team for the 2008/2009 ski season. This editorial is sponsored by Snowbrainer who are very generously offering readers up to 40% savings on Ski and Snowboard Hire if you book online. For a fuller discussion of specific resort conditions, also check out the Ski-Club twice-weekly summary.

PICTURE OF THE WEEK (below): Niseko, Japan, A face full of snow is commonplace, in a resort which enjoys over 16 metres of powder snow from November until April, as Siberian desert storm systems sweep across the Sea of Japan. Photographer: Dean Williams. Upload your images to our photo gallery or see more stunning images on our 2009 Snow Calendar.


Conditions across much of Europe continue to improve. Scotland is the only area where ski conditions have deteriorated in the past week and even here it is snowing again. The last Atlantic depression arrived on Europe's shores and promptly delivered a deluge of rain to parts of Southern England with widespread flooding. Many places saw the best part of a months worth of rain falling in just a few hours. Photo of the Week: Faceful of snow - Niseko As this system headed south and east across mainland Europe it was inevitable that another major snow event would result where it ran into cold continental air. Much as forecast, Western and Southern parts of Europe bore the brunt of the heavy snowfall. Southern France saw 60cm of snow recorded in places, 100,000 homes without electricity, and a fatality due to an avalanche on the Col de la Faucille mountain in the Jura, an area not normally associated with avalanches, especially so early in the season. Heavy winds brought a ski lift at Sept Laux in the Isere region to a standstill and emergency services rescued 50 skiers stuck on it. A men's World Cup slalom competition at Val d'Isere was called off because the snow storms were so intense: three days earlier in our last weekly snow news we mentioned that this event would be adversely affected by the approaching storm and so it was.

The same storm delivered a very impressive 130cm of snow to Alagna in the Italian Alps where snow depths on the upper mountain currently exceed 4m; about four times deeper than is usual for the time of year. The vast majority of ski resorts in the Alps and the Pyrenees have at least some fresh snowfall and conditions are generally as good or better than at the same time last year: and that was the best season for a decade or more. About every 5 or 10 years the European ski season seems to favour the Italian Alps and this certainly seems to be the case at present.

As suggested last week, this weather system that brought so much snow to the major Alpine ski areas has begun taking a lazy tour of the continent, taking in many other minor ski regions. On Friday, the system will intensify again in the far Eastern Med. It will soon bring snow to the ski areas of Turkey, Israel and Lebanon while a secondary system affects Bulgaria and Romania too. Resorts in Greece will probably see rain rather than snow falling, especially at lower elevations but don't worry because cold and snowy weather will soon arrive in the Pindos Mountains in time for Christmas.

Across the United States, a winter that started two or three weeks earlier than usual has quickly become severe as a succession of winter storms sweep the country, and there may well be worse to come in the week before Christmas.

Much of the East Coast was hit by one of the worst ice-storms for a decade earlier this week; unusual partly because of the vast area affected. A state of emergency was declared across parts of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York State and Maine as 1.5 million homes lost electricity when ice-bound trees brought down power lines as super-cooled rain fell on sub-zero surfaces. It was followed by unusually cold temperatures and the risk of frost-bite for skiers.

On the other side of the American continent, the heavy snow that we forecast for resorts in California has duly kick-started the season. In neighbouring Nevada a storm dropped the heaviest snow in Las Vegas since January 1977 with about 5 inches (10cm) of snow reported at the airport where flights were cancelled. This is about half the depth registered 30 years ago. Other parts of Nevada saw as much as 2 feet (60cm) of snow including the ski resorts of the Lake Tahoe area to the north; providing a big boost to snow conditions that comes as a relief after a long dry spell here. Much closer to Las Vegas, even the main route to Los Angeles was blocked at Cajon Pass while north of LA, the main route to San Fransisco was also snow-affected. In general, snow settled above about 3000 feet with 11 inches settling in the Lockwood Valley of Ventura county.

Although snowfall is common on surrounding mountains, the Las Vegas valley usually sees just one or two very light snowfalls each winter. This particular snowfall comes just a week after early snowfall reached the Gulf coast city of New Orleans. On Wednesday afternoon, snow was even reported from the Malibu area of California, settling on hills; yet another unusual snowfall.

Heavy snow stretched from parts of Arizona through southern Nevada, southern Utah into southwestern Colorado on Wednesday and the following night with widespread warnings through the Four Corners region: skiers will of course be delighted.

Illinois and Iowa have probably borne the brunt of the really cold American weather so far. Temperatures dipped to -8 Celsius (18F) on Tuesday and Wednesday; low enough for severe weather warnings for Chicago and there is heavy snow again forecast for the north Midwest on Thursday as a low pressure system intensifies over the Central Plains on Thursday before tracking NE, much in keeping with our editorial forecast of a week ago. Expect a mix of rain and sleet with freezing rain and then heavy snow in southern Wisconsin and nearby areas with some thunderstorms too. About 8 to 10 inches (15 to 20cm) of snow are expected, more in any thunderstorms and with bitterly cold Arctic air tucking in behind.

This same fast moving system will arrive on the East Coast on Friday where it is likely to bring significant snow for Appalachian resorts and snow to Chicago, New York and Boston.

Valleys in Oregon saw their first significant snowfalls of the winter on Monday. About six inches fell and temperatures dropped as low as minus eight Celsius. On Thursday a much more significant storm hit the Pacific NW bringing a few inches of snow to Seattle and in Spokane, Washington, 20 inches of snow on Thursday easily beats the previous record of 13 inches set in 1984. We are expecting up to 1 metre of snow to fall in the Cascades from this system.


  • Incredibly good conditions for the Alps - even better than last year

  • Italy, France and Valais are best with deep fresh snow and low temperatures

    Clouds clearing the Alps on Friday with perfect skiing conditions from Friday

    Fresh snow in Austria, Germany, Poland and Slovakia too.

    Settled weekend weather in central Europe but with cool easterlies increasing

    Pyrenees have excellent fresh snow conditions too; expect a spell of fine weather

    3m on supper runs of Sierra Nevada in Spain

    Scotland has suffered a thaw but snow is again falling. Stormy westerlies at first,eventually becoming cold easterly

    Scandinavia unsettled. Mainly west or northwest winds and more snow, especially for Norway.

    Snow soon for most Eastern and Southern European areas.

    Heavy snow at first for Bulgaria. Further light snowfalls next week and becoming extremely cold

  • Severe winter weather across much of North America

  • All major US ski areas now have a good snow cover, now including ones around Tahoe and Southern California

    Resorts in Western Canada have very low temperatures but less snow

    A succession of 3 storms will affect the US as we approach Christmas

    Few areas outside the far SE of the US will avoid the severe wintry weather

    There are currently weather warnings in place for many States and cities

    It is all good news for skiers but expect widespread travel disruption

    The southern margin of storm tracks will see rain and in between freezing rain rather than snow

    Europe Weather Overview

    As the depression that has brought so much fresh snow to the Alps departs, an Atlantic anticyclone will build across western Europe bringing a very welcome spell of fine weather. Atlantic Weather systems will track around the top of this high pressure system bringing unsettled and sometimes windy weather to Scotland and Scandinavia. Northerly winds down the eastern flank will deliver scattered moderate snowfalls to the ski areas of Eastern Europe away from the Mediterranean. Turning bitterly cold here too, with extreme windchill on exposed summits and ridges. Closer to the Mediterranean, Greece and Turkey will see unsettled weather with heavy snow along the boundary of the cold continental air. Rain rather than snow to the south at first where freezing levels are currently much higher.

    The Alps

    Snow conditions are overall about as good as they can be for the time of year, especially in France, Italy (Italy is best of all) and Switzerland (Valais and Bernese Oberland). Snow depths in may places are exceptional; even better than last year. So much snow fell at Italian resorts in the early part of the week that they have since been unable to open. Conditions in Germany and Austria are excellent too, especially after fresh snow over the past few days. Up to 20cm of snow has fallen at most resorts since Wednesday as the storm system that previously hit the French Alps moves away to the East.

    With pressure building across the Alps on Friday, expect a fine spell of weather to provide the perfect conditions for making fresh tracks - this weekend and early next week will be really fantastic. The approaching spell of fine weather may not be all good news though; large Winter anticyclones over Western Europe can outstay their welcome as off-piste areas get tracked or a crust develops. Early indications are that this particular anticyclone will intensify as it drifts NW over the British Isles, allowing increasingly cold easterlies to develop over the Alps. Snow should eventually return from the north and east in a return to a weather pattern that repeated several times last season. If so, and I should stress that it is by no means certain, then Austria should be the first place to see the next significant snowfalls, but not for at least a week. If the models are correct, when snow does arrive, expect it to be the dry and powdery variety. Thankfully, low temperatures and the low elevation of the mid-winter sun should help preserve the quality of the snow that has already fallen through the dry and sunny spell.


    An intense anticyclone over NW Europe means a spell of fine weather for the Pyrenees too. With so much fresh snow about (most places had at least another few cms on Wednesday) a spell of sunny weather will be very welcome. Again, the worry is that it may out-stay its welcome as it did last season when Iberia was much less snowy than the Alps. Hopefully, like Austria, Andorra will see some snow from rising easterly winds in a little over a week. Most lifts are open at present and with 50cm of snow on lower slopes and three times as much on upper ones, resorts are in much better shape than a year ago. Not quite so cold here as in the Alps and so it is possibly that a crust may develop off piste after sunny days and frosty nights. With and astonishing 3m of snow on upper slopes, The Sierra Nevada in Southern Spain is enjoying and even better start to the season than the Pyrenees. It vies with Italy for our top destination this week. 20 cm of snow fell just a few days ago and the forecasts is for sun throughout the week ahead. Becoming noticeably colder by the end of the week.

    Greece, Turkey and Bulgaria

    As usual, the fortunes of these areas run broadly counter to the Alps: high pressure over western Europe usually means cold an snowy northerlies for Romania, Bulgaria as well as countries bordering the Eastern end of the Mediterranean. Initially, the forecast period is a bit too mild for snow at low altitudes but that will quickly change as cold air plunges down the east side of the anticyclone. With low pressure never far away from Turkey and the Black Sea region there will be plenty of areas of snow around too and although not everywhere will be lucky, the vast majority of resorts should see moderate to heavy falls and some very low temperatures too. Resorts in Bulgaria and Romania, where more snow would be welcome, look likely to see light powder conditions.


    Unfortunately our last forecast was correct! There was widespread new snow last weekend but it quickly turned mild bringing a thaw to lower elevations. Only the Lecht offered any skiing on Thursday. As winds turned to cooler westerly on Thursday, snow fell to fairly low elevations; however, severe gales about the tops will have caused a very uneven distribution to have settled on the ski-runs so expect mixed fortunes on Friday. The westerlies die down on Monday and it should become fine. Staying fine, dry and cool (rather than cold) until a few flurries fall on Boxing Day.

    Norway and Sweden

    Following fresh snowfalls in the middle of the week, most resorts report just over half a metre of snow cover, which is about usual for the time of year. Scandinavia is located closer to low pressure systems than Scotland and so resorts here will see significantly more snow from the prevailing westerly flow. A deep low pressure system crossing the region this weekend will provide the main snow event of the forecast period, and for some places the only snowfall. Next week most fresh snowfalls will be restricted to the coastal west and north.

    North America Weather Overview

    Unless winter has some really nasty surprises in store, overall, the week before Christmas may well prove to be the most severe of the winter in the United States. Three different storm systems are already bringing widespread snowfalls and inevitable travel disruption across a very wide area. North of all this weather action, across Canada, it is mainly the cold that is making the news. For example, it was extremely cold in British Columbia and Alberta on Thursday. Fernie was closed earlier in the week due to the cold weather. Day time temperatures aren't climbing above -20ºC at most resorts and they are issuing frostbite warnings. Because most of the really snowy weather has been much further south (as far as the Nevada Dessert and New Orleans), snowfall accumulations are generally not as large as at many American resorts.

    Canada - West

    Conditions in Whistler are improving thanks to recent light snowfalls but 60cm of snow base there does not compare favourably with what is on offer elsewhere. Sunday should provide another moderate fall but for a further improvement Wednesday and Thursday promise a more substantial fall. Remaining very cold throughout but at least the wind will stay light. Fernie also has very low temperatures and good, rather than great, snow depths - just 44cm reported here on Thursday. Remaining bitterly cold with light winds, light snowfalls and some sun.


    Widespread snowfalls of about 2 feet (60 cm) have been very welcome and another major weather system will ensure excellent skiing over Christmas at all areas, even places close to Los Angeles that are not all that snowsure. The Tahoe region should see some fair weather between Thursday and Sunday but after that it turns cloudy and snowy again, especially on Wednesday when the snow should be heaviest.

    American Rockies

    This area has been hit be a succession of snowfalls and it is already shaping up to be a great winter with snowfalls extending right across the Mexican border. Alta and Snowbird received 40cm of powder over the past few days leading to perfect conditions for skiing and riding. Vail has over a metre of snow top and bottom, including 25cm of fresh powder. Very cold here this weekend with plenty more snow in the forecast next week, primarily on Monday and Tuesday and probably again on Friday and Saturday. Study the detailed forecasts to make the most of brief weather windows.


    Killington is typical, with 80cm of snow including some fresh stuff. There is a lot more snow in the forecasts as well as temperatures that will be too low for some tastes - wrap up extremely well because some days will be below zero F, without the wind chill . As is often the case the overall Appalachian forecast is complex because of the unusually abrupt boundary between cold continental and mild maritime air. This leads to extremely variable conditions that are reasonably easy to forecast but very tedious to describe in detail. An unsettled week ahead, bitterly cold for most ski resorts but with the chance of rain and freezing rain as well as snow at more southerly ones.

    The snow-forecast team - December 2008

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