Impossible Possible

Beaver Creek Colorado

I have known for a handful of years now that the weather repeats. I learned the theory from local Kansas City meteorologist Gary Lezak and expanded my understanding later with meteorologist Doug Heady about the cycling pattern. Then a natural progression occurred with first finding patterns in snowfall and later learning to read weather charts to make accurate forecasts. Last year I made a leap and started to get organized thanks to the prodding of Joel Gratz Founder and forecaster of OpenSnow, I put together a list of snow predictions and filled my photo stream with GFS snapshots, snow reports etc. I would shoot Joel emails pestering him with a snowstorm that I predicted and then when the storm would hit I would email him back “do you believe yet”. The answer was usually “not really” or something like “I kind of see what your looking at” but still skeptical. Larry Schick, OpenSnow Northwest and British Columbia forecaster had a great line “weather has no memory”. This guy worked for 20 years in Seattle TV as a meteorologist and now works for the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Below is the greatest long-range forecast ever predicted. Ok, I know it belabors the point to continually brag about forecasts, but it is not intended to be pompous, rather it is about this incredible force that is in the beginning stages of being understood.

Decoding the Chart

So about the chart: this was what I put together, Cycle 3 chart of predictions for January 25th through March 21. Last year was an 58 and a half day cycle. I ran out of room so I put day 58 at the top left. Yellow meant that I thought there would be a storm from the pattern based on previous cycles, Pink meant probable storms–official predictions. To me, the short hand was obvious, Squaw, Park, Heav, Banff–obvious mountains. Cry=Crystal, MH=Mt. Hood, JH=Jackson Hole, WB=Whistler, LL=Lake Louise, Kicking Horse (Canada–great place no crowds), BS=Big Sky, Alta and Vail. During the cycle I would record snowfall with the corresponding predictions. Below is the completed chart. The Date in in the box and the right upper corner the day of the cycle.

So looking at the chart on Day 3 was January 27th and in the yellow the predicted areas were Park City, Heavenly, then on day 4 Crystal, Mt. Hood, Jackson Hole, Whistler and Heavenly. So what I thought at the time was the system coming in would begin in the PNW, divide into a northern and southern track. the Southern track hitting California’s Heavenly sliding across hitting Park City with the northern track hitting Big Sky and Jackson hole. It was almost perfect, except that, as it turns out, Heavenly and the Tahoe region were not “in” the path of the pattern last year. I would later figure that out and take them off the grid–later though the cycle grew in strength (cycle path footprint expanded) and Tahoe would get a months worth of snow in a week right when the lockdown hit.

These area a few tools in my toolbox now. My photo folders are littered with screen shots of weather charts. It takes hours to pour through the charts figuring out the pattern, but it has its rewards of catching deep powder on occasion and always catching fresh snow on any ski/snowboard trip. I just got back from a trip to the PNW and also a Colorado trip. For Colorado, I booked this trip to take my son before his High School baseball begins–after which he will be busy until fall. We rode fresh snow at Beaver Creek and were lucky to get a mid-week rope drop off Birds of Prey lift, and our luck continued at Breckenridge getting to ride the Imperial Express lift, just opened for the first time of the season, after 3 failed attempts off the T-Bar–don’t worry buddy, it is really hard for snowboarders, you’ll get it next time! Then it was on to Crystal for the real powder chase.

Birds of Prey Express Lift
Steep and Deep at Crystal Mountain Washington

As always feel free to email me or ask a question in the comments box. I’m happy to answer! Finally, below is a chart of upcoming Pattern Storms predicted out until May. Probably won’t go out any farther than that, but Powder Days late in the season can happen. I rode a storm at Arapahoe Basin in late April a few years back that was on my top ten list of all-time trip lists–18″ of cold blower pow. I got white-out vertigo sitting on the Cornice Jump run. White-out vertigo is a really cool experience if it has never happened to you, the only thing you can see is white. You can’t get any perspective at all and you get dizzy. Luckily for me someone came and jumped off the cornice so I quickly followed close enough until I got down to tree line.

Prediction Grid Currently 85% Accurate

March and April Predictions

March and April Predictions

It has been an amazing year so far, FutureSnow has accurately predicted 23 out of 27 events, that’s 85%. That is really an amazing statistic because all of the predictions have been made at least 25 days in advance before any models are in range. The longest was 56 days for Colorado where Vail had 13 inches. There is an even longer prediction coming up, 67 days, for March 9-11th. I would love to end the ski season with 90%. This is not meant as a brag, I just simply interpret the data, it more of how cool it is to know when these systems will come through.

Cycle 4

The 4th cycle is under way. At the beginning of each cycle the storms favor the Pacific Northwest and Canada. This has occurred in each of the previous three cycles and GFS verifies same for the beginning of this cycle. The cycle is 45 1/2 to 45.8 days in length. I have adjusted the upcoming predictions by a couple of days to correct this offset.

When talking about the cycle, every year is different. Last year had a longer cycle, La Nina favors shorter cycles. Presently this La Niña is weakening, the Arctic Oscillation is neutral, the north Atlantic Oscillation is neutral, and the Madden Julian Oscillation is in phase 7 in the western pacific. All of these tele-connections influence the strength and path of storms. However, the framework, or structure of the storm path, remains the same throughout the spring and it weakens in the summer until it is wiped out in late summer.


February 27th Colorado Prediction

This forecasted storm was made on January 26th as I dove back into the history of the previous cycles. I missed this “pattern storm” and discovered it through a little forensic analysis.

History of the storm

Day 6 of last cycle, a small wave hit Colorado, followed by a large wave impacting the PNW. In cycle 2, again a small wave hit Colorado followed by a small wave hitting the PNW. In cycle 1 on day 7 a small wave hit CO followed by a large wave in the PNW. So when I decided to add this to the prediction grid I decided to add it on day 7, probably not a smart choice because it hit on day 6 twice but my thinking was it hit late on 6 both times and the day 7 storm it was during the day.
The GFS has this storm arriving at about 6 am on Thursday the 25th. This is actually right on time—if I would have been “on it” and adjusted the cycle length to reflect the uneven cycle (45 1/2-45.8 days).

FutureSnow CO Prediction

I have adjusted all future predictions by 2 days to correct the cycle to match the storm cycles. I am not going to update the existing storm forecast for February but the March schedule has been adjusted. Below us the updated predictions spreadsheet.

This Weeks Picture Challenge

Post your response in the comments section.

This Weeks Predictions

This Weeks Predictions

January 3rd, or 46 days ago, we predicted the week of storms that will be hitting the PNW (Crystal MT) this week. We specifically used Crystal because it centered on the storms that have occurred in each cycle. Sometimes the Oregon mountains were hit, and other times the British Columbia mountains were hit, but Crystal was hit each time. GFS looks solid for this week. Next up is Colorado, Feb 27th, this has been a small storm that has teetered on day 6 and 7 of the last 3 cycles. Its quite possible this could be a technical bust for my prediction because I only have a day as a variance, but I wanted to get this storm into the forecast because I missed it in the first two cycles.

I published the spring break forecast a few weeks ago so you can check it out here.

To summarize that forecast:

March 4th Crystal

March 9-10th Alta, Park City

March 10-11th Crystal

March 11-13 Colorado

March 15-19th Banff, Kicking Horse, Revelstoke

March 15-19th Big Sky Jackson Hole

March 19-20th Squaw

March 24-26th Squaw

March 29-31st Colorado

The Power of the Cycle

The Power of the Cycle

There are so many examples of Recurring Pattern that happen each year. This is just another one of them. If you look at this present storm and then you look at the storm from 46 days ago they are almost identical. Meteorologists, climatologists, atmospheric scientists all miss this. We have cycles everywhere, oscillations, etc. and yet they still miss it. Why, it looks like it’s so easy? It’s not, it’s very subtle. Gary Lezak, a leading meteorologist on the subject, once said to me “the artist will see the pattern much faster than the scientist”. That is so true, it took me years just to convince Joel Gratz, of OpenSnow.com—and he’s still skeptical. Doug Heady, an incredible expert and Founder in this field says, I’m paraphrasing, even when you know the cycle length, there is so many variables that go into each and every storm. That’s why it’s so hard to understand. Someday though it will be understood and modeled.

Ok so let’s dive in. Look at these two pictures. The flow, the storm, the ridging all match. Now this doesn’t happen very often. But when it does it makes you understand that the cycles can set up the same.

The flow is signified in blue, the red squiggly lines are the ridges, and the green circle is the particular wave, or storm coming on shore. In the December snapshot you can see right where the polar vortex is going to go. Fits right into the puzzle. When you look back to the teleconnections in December and look at the teleconnections today, they are similar. When all the variables lineup the same the outcome is the same—roughly.

The storm that I have forecasted for February 18th is on the way. The last few storms have been trending about 12 hours early, that is because the cycle length is about 45.8 days and we are in the tail end of cycle 3.

Here is an update on the bomb cyclone, back on January 1 I posted that the bomb cyclone that was hitting Alaska at the Aleutian Islands would return on Presidents’ Day. Well it’s Presidents’ Day and the storm is right on time. Not a bomb cyclone this time but a nice low. It’ll come back around April 3.

Not a Bomb

BiPolar Vortex

This is pretty cool what’s happening right now. The polar vortex, and sometimes bi-polar, is affecting the track of the storm systems. I’ve never seen this before. The storms are still right on schedule but it looks like they will track further south then the regular track. This is good news for Tahoe, Utah, and Colorado because this is one of the slow period where storms track further north. This picture below shows the flow of the jet stream. There is still the ridge off the west coast, but that will soon break down.

Counter clockwise flow of polar vortex

The next pattern storm begins with a weeklong system that starts in the Pacific north west with Crystal Mountain in the center. Previous cycles it would hit Crystal and slide across Idaho and Wyoming and Jackson Hole. This time the polar vortex has pushed it south heading directly for Colorado and Utah. Bonus!

Looks like the PV will get kicked out somewhere the 15th or 16th. Colorado an Tahoe likely will get at least 2 extra systems they would not have got—that should help the snowpack numbers.

Predictions/Results

Well here is a copy of our updated results score card. Currently we are sitting at 83% accurate on ultra long range forecasts. The longest verified forecast is 56 days. We are going to adjust out timeline soon and move up storms a day earlier due to an cycle length of 45.8 days. The storms, after 3 cycles are coming in early about 8 hours early. If you add in universal standard time (Zulu), that’s another 6 hours. We will analyze each upcoming forecast to the precise moment of when the storms hit in the previous cycles, comparing them to archived GPS and GFS-MSLP copy’s..

We’re on to Washington

Ok, so let’s keep the hits coming. Our next prediction begins with the PNW and specifically Crystal Mountain. A weeks worth of storms are getting ready to slam BC, Washington and Oregon. This system should be large enough to skirt the Tahoe region, so fingers crossed for you guys. This is one of the dry stretches for Tahoe but it will return to an active pattern in March. Back to the PNW, this part of the pattern favors a northern track through Canada, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. The larger systems will drop to Colorado. I have the 21st in yellow which means it has reached CO in previous, but not all, cycles. This is the peak strength of the year so the last storm that came through was the best storm so far. The set of pictures below are the last time the system came through on January 3, and the project GFS for the 18th.

if you have any questions feel free to comment in the comment section, or shoot me an email to mike@futuresnow.co.


Big Hit!

Well we got a big hit! We were thinking that the cycle will strengthen due to a weakening La Niña and it has come through strong. We had 2 predictions. Utah’s Alta, and all CO mountains. Alta 15” today with more on the way, second, we forecasted for all Colorado mountains.

Steamboat 20”

Vail 13”

Breck 8”

Beaver Creek 7”

Vail snowstake

The last time through on December 23, we had a huge ridge off the West Coast that did produce both in Utah and Colorado. This time through we have a more linear pattern with no rigging. This allowed more energy from the stronger jet that propagated down through the PNW. This pattern should continue in the next cycle. These next couple of pictures show the difference between where are the ridges in place, and the flow.

Last Cycle


Current Cycle

OK so let’s take a look at the next predictions.

February 18-22nd. Active week in the PNW Crystal Mountain

February 24-25 Alyeska Alaska

February 25th PNW Crystal Mountain

February 27th Colorado Mountains

Thanks for all your email questions and if you have any others send them to mike@futuresnow.cc. I usually get to them within a day.

Spring Break Forecast

If you were to just pick a date to go skiing this year, at Breckenridge, you have a 40% chance it will snow. With FutureSnow, your odds improve to 82%. So let’s dive in to our spring break predictions. there are some good storms that lineup around that time. Let’s start off with Crystal Mountain Washington. There will be a good storm on March 10 and 11th. That same storm arrives in Colorado March 12-13th. For our spring breakers in Tahoe, there should be a good system that comes through on March 19-20th, and then another system the 24-26th. Colorado gets hit during the end of the month, during aN active week March 26-31.

March Forecast

March 10-11 Crystal Mountain

March 12-13 Colorado Mountains

March 19-20 and 24-26th Tahoe

March 26-31 Colorado Mountains

We have 20 days left in the present cycle (3). The March Predictions are in cycle 4. Looking back over the first three cycles, the first set of storms in the March predictions, cycle 2 was the winner. The latter part of the storms of the month Cycle 1 produced the strongest returns. What will the end of cycle 3 and 4 bring? I expect the end of three and cycle forward to be the strongest cycle of the snow year. La Niña should weaken as we move into March and that should alter the storm path to be more favorable for Colorado.
The present cycle will begin to become more active is this coming weekend. Last Cycle the Colorado Mountains were active on days 37-40 that puts us February 11 through Valentine’s Day. So look for that week to be solid. We wrap up the last week of the cycle with storms for the western mountains. From Lake Tahoe all the way up to British Columbia saw big totals last Cycle, so Feb 18-20 should repeat.