The Storm Troopers at OpenSnow.com
A group of armchair forecasters are predicting powder across more terrain than ever
The weather guy always gets ragged on. That’s probably because he’s usually the person in the oversized suit on the 6 ‘o clock news who is cracking cheesy jokes to overcompensate for a 10-day forecast that’s as boring as sunny with chance of sun. But the forecasters at OpenSnow.com aren’t your typical weathermen.
For one, the six guys who study the sky for mountain communities across the country aren’t concerned with a 10-day-party-cloudy kind of forecast. They care about one thing—big winter storms. Six years since Colorado-based forecaster Joel Gatz founded the winter weather-oriented website, OpenSnow (four years as Colorado Powder Forecast and two as OpenSnow) it has proven to be cool and accurate, especially when it comes to predicting powder.
Most weathermen are “like a general doctor, they can do a little bit of everything,” says Gatz. But at OpenSnow, “we’re the specialists.”
OpenSnow takes weather models and breaks them down to individual ski regions—from Colorado to New England, the Upper Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, Utah, and Tahoe—estimating where and when the powder will come, and, most importantly, how deep it’s going to be. New this season, OpenSnow launched an app, so hopefully you’ll never miss a powder day again.
The key facet to their accuracy: Location, location, location—that’s what makes the most trusted snow-predicting website so accurate. The OpenSnow forecasters are rarely in the same room together because every staff member lives in the place they forecast for.
“You need to know the micro climates around the mountain,” says Andrew Murray, co-founder, web designer, and forecaster for the upper Midwest region. That intimate local knowledge is how a forecaster translates precipitation estimates into snow totals for a specific ski area—which is the only thing that really matters to us powderhounds.
OpenSnow Tahoe forecaster Bryan Allegretto knows micro climates well. He says an understanding of elevation and local climate is what takes the OpenSnow guys from a general weather forecaster to a snow specialist.
“In 30 miles [from Donner Summit to Reno] you can go from an average of 500 inches a year to 18 inches,” says Allegreto “You have to understand how the storms are affected by the rise and drop in elevation.”
The National Weather Service (NOAA) cranks out data and a weather model that any forecaster, meteorologist, or weatherman can use, free of charge thanks to your tax dollars. “But the graphics are kind of crappy,” says Allegretto, who pays to use models with better visuals that are posted by private weather services like AccuWeather.
From there, it’s up to the specialist’s interpretation.
“I know the models can’t understand mountain terrain,” says Allegreto. “It spits out how much snow would fall at sea level on a flat plain.”
Co-founder Murray has been working on a weather model for OpenSnow that will take into account specific mountain terrain for each ski region, but it’ll be a few years before he’s finished integrating local knowledge and sub-climates into mathematical equations run on a computer model.
It’s true that many of the forecasters on the OpenSnow team have spent hours as a child at the window, watching clouds form and storms roll in. At some point, their fascination for weather turned into a profession. But what keeps them out of the offices of NOAA is a love for skiing.
On a storm day, these forecasters get up around 4 a.m. to analyze the models and spend a couple hours writing their report before running to the mountain and getting some turns in before their other day job. New England forecaster Brian Clark works at a rental shop and teaches ski lessons when he’s not forecasting. Allegretto runs a mountain lodge on top of Donner Summit, a perfect place on storm days to run outside with a ruler and a camera to give live updates on the storm—which he does.
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