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Warm, dry weather derailing ski season opening plans

DENVER — It is certainly no secret the weather during this year’s fall season has been acting bit out of character with eye-opening stats backing that up.

Including conditions recorded Monday afternoon, there are two lengthy streaks at Denver International Airport, the official reporting site for Denver.

    • The last time Denver recorded a below-average high temperature was Oct. 20. That marks 18 straight days and counting with above-average highs.  During that streak, the record high was tied or broken three times.
    • The last time Denver recorded measurable precipitation was Oct. 12. That put the streak at 25 straight days without precipitation of any kind.  Since July 1, the gauges at the airport are 4.19 inches below average.

The main reason for the dry, warm conditions has been a series of dominant high pressure systems making their home over the Rockies over the past few months.

Areas of high pressure typically mean a calm and quiet pattern as they either deflect unsettled weather away from the area, or kill it all together.  Either way, the end result stays the same.

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The neighborhoods along the Front Range aren’t the only ones feeling the effects of this unseasonable shift.  The high country has been bone dry and very warm as well.  

For some perspective, look at this season’s snowfall so far to last year’s numbers at this time.  

By early November 2015, the area covered by snowfall on this map was 77.9 percent. This year is seriously lagging behind with only 7.3 percent of the map showing snow.

swe-comparison

The snow depth maps show quite a contrast as well.

Last year, most of the higher terrain already had anywhere between 10 inches and 20 inches of snow on the ground.  This year, the natural snow coverage is much smaller with depths on the higher terrain generally in the 2-4-inch range.

snow-depth-comparison

This has become especially frustrating for resorts and skiers. So far, Arapahoe Basin is the only resort close to the Denver metro area with lifts turning.  

With that being said, only two of 107 trails are open with a mostly man-made 18-inch base of tree-to-tree snow.

A few resorts such as Keystone have had to push back their opening days because of the unseasonably warm air cutting down snowmaking time and increasing daytime evaporation.  

Even with that being the case, if current opening day projections come to fruition, we aren’t that far off from last year’s opening days.  In some cases, this year will earlier than last year’s opening dates.

opening-day-comparison-chart

While that chart may somewhat ease the minds of skiers anxious about how we are entering this year’s season, it doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story.  Referring back to the aforementioned A-Basin, yes they are open, but the amount of usable terrain is small.  

This will be the concern going forward until resorts get some help from mother nature.  

For now, snowmaking is generally relegated to overnight periods resulting in a relatively small amount of ground being covered. Unless some natural snow arrives, it will be a slow progression to getting those open run and lift counts to increase.  

Historically, there is a fairly low correlation between October and November snowfall vs. end of season snow totals.  Let’s hope that historical pattern plays out again this season.