"Stay Home, Stay Healthy" All NW ski areas are closed for the season. No uphill travel, no avalanche control. Respect ski area closures. NW Avalanche Center: As of March 24th, NWAC has suspended backcountry avalanche forecasting until further notice. Check the website for details and updates. "Stay at Home" order in effect – no backcountry, no AT skiing, no looking around, no snowshoeing, no x-country skiing, etc. Besides social distancing protocols, the main issue is if there is a problem (like a rescue or assistance), valuable medical and SAR resources cannot be reallocated. They are needed for the COVID-19 fight. Please respect our medical and emergency workers – they are giving their all for you – as they always do.
Short Term Forecast
The forecast was ENSO Neutral for the Northwest ski season during 2019 and 2020. ENSO Neutral typically means a near-normal snowpack for the NW. But as I always say you never know how the snowfall over the season will unfold and this season emphases that point. Also, remember there is not a month-to-month connection with snowfall. One month (good or bad) does not telegraph ahead what the next month will bring.
The season started very slow with almost no snow falling by mid-December (see above). Most areas were not even open at that point, and the ones that were open (Crystal, Whistler, Mission) were almost all on snowmaking with limited high elevation snowpack. The lack of snow was connected to low November and meager (early-mid) December precipitation. Most of the West Coast precipitation aimed at California during that time period as the storm track migrated south of us.
Snowfall picked up in the NW by late December as the storm tracked relocated in our direction. The holiday season was salvaged, but there were many thin spots in the snowpack.
In late February, the snow improved greatly as I lapped this, three of those tracks are mine.
I got this first line in "South" at Crystal in early March.
The skiing improved greatly in mid to late winter. Snowfall increased in January, but especially in February and into early March. The snowpack came roaring back from the dead to well above normal in many areas – things can change quickly.
I charged this powder at Crystal in late winter
Spring skiing was looking very good with a fantastic snowpack and new storms. Then, of course, the virus hit and by mid-March, the party was over and everything was closed.
I think the ENSO forecast was very good for the NW as we ended up with near to a slightly above-normal snowpack.
Late winter, Crystal - I guarantee you'll never find this inbounds powder stash - three days after the storm. Traversed more than a mile and lost more than a 1,000 vertical to get there.
Next Season (2020-2021)
Long-range forecasting is infamously unreliable – especially this early, but the current estimate is next season will be either ENSO - Neutral or a possibility of La Nina. Neutral means near-normal snowfall for the NW, like this year. But great things can happen with La Nina
If La Nina evolves for the NW that would be fantastic. La Nina, in the NW, is the only reliable long-range forecast. La Nina generally means wonderful snowfall for the NW – like the 1,140” at Mt Baker in the LA Nina of 1999. But La Nina is slightly less likely than neutral at this point. La Nina would be a great forecast, confident with prolific snowfall, but it’s too early to make that call now. We will have a more dependable outlook by early fall Sept/Oct 2020.
Enjoy the summer and be safe!
Larry Schick | OpenSnow Meteorologist
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