World Snow News 56

Update for January 8th 2008

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La Nina, the North Atlantic Oscillation and the prospects for the rest of the winter - more of the same?

Vogel, SloveniaJust a few weeks ago weather forecasters had finally written off the La Nina weather pattern that had contributed to the exceptional cold and snowy 07/08 winter. They even speculated that a warm El Nino event could soon be at hand. In the event, Southern Oscillation conditions turned briefly neutral at the end of 2008 but over recent weeks the La Nina pattern has re-emerged. This is good news for skiers in general because it should lead to more of the same weather patterns that we have been enjoying for so long with little risk of an early Spring thaw - the sight of grassy pistes at 2000m January seems like a distant memory even if it was in fact only two years ago.

Models currently call for a weak La Nina to neutral pattern to prevail until summer at the earliest. This will continue to exert a very strong influence on the North American winter with weaker effects elsewhere. In North America, winter La Nina weather tends to be colder than usual in the West of the US and Canada. It also tends to be dry and warm in the south of the US and wet/snowy in two regions - one between North California and the Vancouver Island and the other in an area south of the Great Lakes and adjacent areas of the Appalachians.

Europe is much more profoundly affected by the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) than La Nina, and any correlation between these is contentious. Positive NAOs are associated with deep low pressure systems over Iceland and strong high pressure over the Azores and the result is for a strong and mild westerly flow to affect Europe. On the one hand the NAO can be prevailingly the same for several years (for example, the 1960s were mostly negative, the 1990s strongly positive) but within these periods of prevailing sign it often changes quite suddenly and in a manner that is difficult to predict. Sometimes we get a negative NAO year or month in the middle of run of otherwise positive years. For most of the time over last Autumn and early winter, the NAO has been negative resulting in a much stronger influence of cold continental air for Western Europe. As a side affect, Atlantic systems diverted south across Spain and through the Mediterranean making it wetter/snowier than usual there. Good news for the Pyrenees and especially the Italian Alps.


  • Europe
  • Low temperature have preserved the great snow conditions in the Alps
    Most places have seen blue skies and no new snow for a week or more
    The French Maritime Alps and most of the Italian Alps received 10-30cm of fresh snow on Wednesday
    Snow cleared away to the East on Thursday. Fine and cold everywhere this weekend
    Becoming slowly less settled from the West next week
    Atlantic fronts look likely to bring fresh snow to Alpine resorts later in the week
    Milder, but not mild enough to be a problem apart from below 1000m
    In Scotland it will begin mild with SW gales, but a trend to cooler westerlies will bring snow next week
    Mild SW winds along the west of Norway will be replaced by much colder weather with snow for many
    The Sierra Nevada will see light snow soon clearing on Friday. Unusually cold at first. A little less cold next week but with a period of snow about mid-week
    In Andorra expect a little more snow on Friday, then mostly fine and less cold next week
    For Bulgaria, snow is just a few days old

  • North America

  • This week has seen regular and heavy snowfalls across the Utah and Colorado Rockies
    Fine weather for Lake Tahoe resorts and becoming quite mild with some Spring conditions developing
    Elsewhere in North America, a trend to much colder conditions next week
    A system will bring moderate snow to States bordering the Great Lakes (Thurs,Fri) and later New England (Sat)
    Two further systems will take a more southerly track early next week bringing more snow to Appalachian resorts
    Pressure building across the mid-west next week, possible snow for Southern States of USA
    Snowy yet again for Whistler. Maybe just warm enough for rain at low elevations - clear weather mid-week

    Europe Weather Overview

    Overall, Europe continues to be affected by much colder than average weather conditions with night time temperatures down to about minus 20 C from the lowlands up to the Alpine tops. In Britain, where temperatures have dipped as low as minus 12 C, it has seen the coldest start to winter for 30 years. Snow and rain at the start of the week became much heavier when it moved onto Northern France on Monday with 20cm settling in places. Similarly, Dusseldorf and Leipzig in Germany saw heavy snowfalls.

    Most continental ski destinations saw frequent November and December snowfalls making it the best early ski season for decades in the French and Italian Alps, and much better than last season in the Pyrenees and Sierra Nevada too. In the Alps, only Austria could claim that 2007/08 began with more snow. For all Alpine resorts, uninterrupted low temperatures mean that despite everyone's initial fears, the excellent autumn base survived, and the widespread top-up of powdery snow that fell at New Year has stayed dry and fluffy, even on sunny slopes. The kids are back at school and most ski resorts are relatively quiet now. Almost everywhere will enjoy several more days of sunshine and light winds. Most obvious off-piste lines were skied out at the major resorts last weekend, but for fresh tracks, once again the place to be is in the Maritime Alps of France Isola 2000, Serre Chevalier as well as smaller low-altitude ski areas) together with the Italian Alps, especially the Milky Way resorts, and the southernmost parts of Switzerland, places like Saas Fe. These areas benefited from 15-30cm of fresh stuff from the same system that brought travel chaos to the South of France and northern Italy on Wednesday, briefly cutting off all roads into Marseille and closing the airport. Milan also saw heavy snow from this system with 40cm of snow in places.

    The cause of all the recent cold weather has been a blocking high pressure system over Western and Central Europe. The snow has mostly fallen where weather fronts have run up against the boundary of this air-mass, especially along the Mediterranean margin. Algana comes out top, boasting a 4m base; about double the average for the time of Year. The Balkans have had heavy snow too as has the Sierra Nevada in Southern Spain, where there is already a 3m base, with fresh snow on top and temperatures of -10C. Lastly, there is also western Norway where up to 30cm of fresh snow has been reported from Oppdal on Wednesday. Many other resorts have new snow too although none has been reported from Geilo Hemsedal or Lillehammer. Conversely, although bitterly cold, most locations in central Europe Jura, Germany, Northern Alps, Tatras) have seen dustings of snow at best since the New Year falls. For example the Valais town of Sion saw local snow on Tuesday but very little was reported from surrounding resorts. Further East, in Bulgaria there was 20cm of fresh snow as recently as January 4th.

    The week ahead sees Atlantic air return to Western Europe and then to Central Europe. Apart from some initially mild SW winds over the British Isles and parts of Scandinavia this weekend, the dominant wind direction becomes westerly. As Atlantic fronts push slowly into central Europe next week, it won't be as cold as it has been of late but it won't be especially mild either. The good news is that most ski areas will see fresh snow in the second half of the week and only places below 1000m are more likely to see rain. Scottish Mountains will be the first to see the change to cooler westerlies. They will receive much more snow from the Atlantic weather pattern but it will often be very windy. Westerly winds, bringing moderate snowfalls, could spread as far west as Bulgaria on Thursday. With a huge blocking high over Western Europe ski resorts to the East have also seen very heavy snowfall. These areas include Greece, Turkey, Romania and areas bordering the Black Sea. In Georgia on Wednesday, 2m of snow left the remote region of Mestia in a blackout.

    North America Weather Overview

    The weather forecast for North America is dominated by a fast so-called clipper system (fast moving, accompanied by strong winds and followed by much colder air) that will soon track south of the Great Lakes before exiting via New England bringing several inches of snow for many with rain along the southern margin. This is exactly the kind of track that La Nina conditions favour, and a path we have seen a lot of this winter so far (Chicago has had 20 days of snowfall). A second system will follow on a more southerly track in a few days, then a third. Between them, they will ensure that most Appalachian resorts see at least some new snow.

    If the latest weather models are correct in calling for an intense anticyclone to build across the mid-west next week, there is even a possibility of snow falling at the Gulf of Mexico coastline on Thursday, accompanied by strong N wind (Apart from these unusual snow events which make the news the Southeast has in fact been a warmer than average winter overall). As you might imagine, with snow forecast for the Gulf Coast States, further north in the Appalachians temperatures will be exceptionally low.

    As mentioned in the discussion about La Nina patterns, the Pacific Northwest tends to be another area that sees a lot more precipitation than usual. No surprise that it has once again been snowing and raining heavily in this region. During the past week disruption due to snow was even reported from downtown urban areas, collapsing 5 roofs in Vancouver. An inch of snow settled in Seattle but further inland at Spokane, a city of 200,000, was largely shut down Monday, as up to 8 inches of snow fell. More than 5 feet of snow has fallen on the city since Dec. 17. Snowfall was followed by rain, high winds, flooding and avalanches in Washington State. Avalanche danger in the Cascades was quoted as extreme.

    The next major storm arrives on Friday night. Expect very heavy snow at Whistler and some absolutely perfect conditions when clear air arrives on Tuesday and especially Wednesday. The prevailing storm track has tended to direct these systems too far south for Banff Mt Norquay where they still have less than 1m of base but excellent conditions just the same. Light snow showers and longer spells of light snow through the weekend and into next week and whereas it is just -2C today by Wednesday it will fall to -25C.

    The snow-forecast team - January 2009