By Bruce Bartleson
Now that it’s May and the snow in town has melted (except in Crested Butte), people are biking, hiking and enjoying the sunshine. Let’s look back at a rather phenomenal winter in most of the Rocky Mountain states.
We all heard about the multiple series of “Atmospheric Rivers” (pineapple express) that blitzed the West Coast, shutting down ski areas in many places because of too much snow. Alta in Utah had a record of 900” (set after they closed), and Steamboat had 448” of snow. Snow water equivalents (SWE) are well over 200% in many places in the West.
Although the Crested Butte ski area reported 332” of snow and billy barr is showing 351” for the winter in Gothic (average is 408”), I find it interesting that the Town of Crested Butte is only a “little” over their long-term average seasonal snowfall of about 200” – it is now at 227.” If you had been in the town for much of the winter you would have thought you were in the Yukon. Actually, the snow on the ground (or snowpack) was about normal until March when, due to 66 inches of snowfall and very cold and cloudy weather, the snowpack in CB went up to 63” (average for March in CB is 43”). In April the snowpack still averaged 62”, when the average is 25”. Put another way, Crested Butte got 13% more snow than average but 250% more snowpack in April.
Down in Gunnison we now have 42.9” of snowfall for the winter season of 2022-2023, and this is close to the “new normal” we have been receiving for the past 30 years. The long-term average for Gunnison used to be 50 inches of snow.
The SWE is the highest it has been in years and much of the Rockies are in the 200% range.
Now, what did the weather gurus predict last summer for this winter? For that, I refer you to the website of OpenSnow:
Briefly put – not only were they wrong, but they missed by a mile – it was a total disaster in forecasting for the western US! None of them got the West Coast and the Rockies right although, to be fair, many got the Great Lakes area right. The revered Farmer’s Almanac, which seems to have a cult-like following (they use “mathematical and astronomical formulas instead of ocean and atmospheric trends), described the Rockies forecast as being “mild, drier than normal.” NOAA was equally bad, calling for the West to have “equal chances of being normal to below normal in precipitation.”
Sam Collentine of OpenSnow summarizes with this: “There are just too many short-term patterns through the winter that can’t be forecasted more than 1-2 weeks out, and it’s these short-term weather patterns that make or break a season. Technology will continue to advance, and someday we might be able to accurately and consistently forecast weather patterns 3–6 months in advance.”
Bottom line: Next time you see predictions for the winter snow pack, remember what Benjamin Franklin said: “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.” Yeah, I know Timothy Leary said that too, but Franklin said it first.