State of the Snow

The winter that started in February, unless you live in Colorado

Let the snow fly. PHOTO: Martinak15/Flickr Creative Commons

Let the snow fly. PHOTO: Martinak15/Flickr Creative Commons

While Colorado enjoys one of its snowiest winters in recent history, the rest of the country is just starting to catch up. Recent heavy snow in the Sierra was a welcome relief to skiers, resorts, farmers, and just about everyone who lives in or downstream of the mountains. Before the storm hit, California sat at about 12 percent of its average snowpack—with 40,000 people in the state danger of running out of water within 60 to 120 days. After recent February storms, the snow pack rose to around 30 percent, but warmer temperatures—like 64 F in Mammoth Lakes last Thursday and Friday—melted much of it.

The Northwest has been in a similar situation with about half of its average snowpack across the state, and some sites in southern Oregon at 22 percent of normal. The region was boosted by several storms over the last two weeks, but many counties remain in drought conditions. Two big storms bearing down on the Rockies and Pacific Northwest over the next week should bring several more feet of new snow, covering trails but spiking avalanche danger to historic highs.

The bitterly cold Northeast, thanks to the now infamous Polar Vortex, has been terrific for snowmaking, but sadly not as much of the real stuff. Most storms have tracked the coast, dropping their goods on places like Atlanta and Philadelphia instead. That is, until this weekend. Friday dumped a foot or more on most Northeastern resorts, setting them up for President's Day weekend, and a second storm dropped about the same at most major New England ski areas.

Meantime, up north has been warming up. In the wake of the Polar Vortex, warm air penetrated north to Alaska, where it was 62 degrees F in Port Alsworth on January 27. The warming and high elevation rainfall rain caused one of the largest avalanches in history on the Richardson Highway outside of Valdez.