2014 – 2015 Winter Weather Forecast

 

It’s hard to believe how fast summer is flying by after the bitter cold winter of 2013/2014 and it’s already starting to feel like autumn here in Bozeman Montana. Now it’s time for our 2014/2015 winter weather forecast. It looks like the roller coaster I mentioned last year continued in 2013-2014 with some pretty good results in snow cover and cold temperatures. In fact, last winter hit the record books as the coldest winter in 30 years. We set quite a few all-time records for below average temperatures particularly in the upper Midwest where the all-to-famous ‘Polar Vortex’ hit which, by its self, isn’t unusual but the persistence and duration of these polar bursts made it one for the record books.

Let’s take a look at the state of the NAO since it has been the big player over the last couple winters. Currently the NAO is negative and trending into the positive direction. However, compared to the last few years, the NAO is in near neutral territory and models are showing little variation from this. So I expect the NAO to take a bench this winter and let the other factors play.

http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/data/teledoc/nao_ts.shtml

http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/data/teledoc/nao_ts.shtml

The next big factor to look at is the state of the ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation). Some experts are predicting a 60%-70% chance of a weak to moderate El Nino this winter which would pretty much dictate the weather across the US. However, I’m seeing something different. The chart below shows the El Nino forecast through June 2015. The grey highlighted area shows the winter 2014-2015 months. An El Nino event usually happens when the sea surface temperature anomalies exceed 1 degree Celsius indicated by the upper red line. The lower red line shows the boundary for a La Nina event. The bulk of the models and the averages are all below the El Nino boundary. My prediction is a 30% chance of a weak El Nino. Just because we may not hit an official El Nino, the waters will still be slightly warmer than usual and this can lead to mild ‘El Nino-like’ effects.  I am however seeing some high pressure blocking beginning to predominate in the Alaskan gulf so we’ll talk about that further down. With NAO and ENSO playing weak roles this winter we’ll need to take a look at more factors than usual for this winter’s forecast.

http://iri.columbia.edu/our-expertise/climate/forecasts/enso/current/

http://iri.columbia.edu/our-expertise/climate/forecasts/enso/current/

 

Let’s take a look at a few more things like AO and PNA. The AO (Arctic Oscillation) determines the stability of the cold air over the North Pole. When the AO is in a positive state the air wraps tightly over the north pole pulling it away from the lower 48 but in a negative state the air mass becomes unstable and starts to plunge south into southern Canada and sometimes as far as the US. Last year the famous “Polar Vortex” can be clearly seen in the chart below when the AO suddenly plunged into negative territory and didn’t really start to recover into positive territory until early spring. So far this summer the AO has been negative which can help explain the cooler than average temperatures and early snowfall recently across the Rocky Mountains. Currently the AO is negative and forecasts are predicting it will stay negative through September. My preliminary prediction is that the AO will stay mostly negative at least through the beginning of winter so we can expect a cold autumn and a fashionably early winter.

http://www1.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/cmb/teleconnections/ao-5-pg.gif

http://www1.ncdc.noaa.gov/pub/data/cmb/teleconnections/ao-5-pg.gif

 

The PNA (Pacific North American Teleconnection) is tightly connected with, and or affected by, the state of El Nino. These two factors could play together to induce a stronger than predicted El Nino event but could also potentially cancel out a weak El Nino. The PNA stayed negative for a really long time from late winter 2012 and just started spiking into positive territory this last summer which is probably correlated with the predictions of a weak El Nino. Typically this means warmer temperatures for the West coast and colder temperatures for the Southeast with lots of snow around the Gulf of Alaska down into the Pacific Northwest and low snow totals in the Midwest.

So what’s the bottom line? I must warn you that it’s still pretty early to predict the entire winter accurately and with variables such as El Nino lurking around, anything could ultimately end up happening. But for now here is what I predict. The Northeast will see plenty of snow with average temperatures. Southeast will be cold and wet (look out for potential ice storms). It will be pretty cold this winter, maybe not as bad as last winter but pretty close, for the Midwest and the Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah areas. Those areas should also expect around average snowfall, which for some of you can still be a lot of snow. The south central USA and southwest will be cold and wet with a high probability of ice storms particularly in the eastern south central. If you live anywhere along the west coast or the Pacific Northwest you’re in for lots of rain in the south and lots of wet snow in the north. If you’re looking for a good ski getaway I would checkout Alaska, they should be getting a good deal of snow this winter.

As I said before it’s still early for making any kind of accurate winter forecasts so use this as a guideline but don’t put too much money on it. And as always, I’ve included a trusty copy of the Farmer’s Almanac winter forecast for you to cross-reference.

 

http://www.almanac.com/content/almanacs-long-range-weather-forecast-us-and-canada

http://www.almanac.com/content/almanacs-long-range-weather-forecast-us-and-canada

 

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Take Your Mountaineering to the Next Level

 

 

So you’ve bagged your first peak, or maybe two or three. You found a few summits with nice trails to the top and took in the glory of becoming a mountaineer once and for all. Now it’s time to consider your ultimate goals as a mountaineer. Do you mostly enjoy nice walks through nature to the top of a mountain with breathtaking views with an essence of solitude and silence? Then keep doing what you’re doing. There is a lifetime worth of mountains out there that fit this description so you’ll never get board. But if you have ambitious visions of standing atop the world highest peaks, discovering new routes, and becoming a mountaineering legend then it’s time to take the next step.

You found an easy way into mountaineering that doesn’t require much equipment or risk. Now it’s time to start factoring those elements in. But don’t overdo it. You’ll want to find a mountain with a rout rated at a class 3 scramble. This will be the first step beyond a normal packed hiking trail. For this you will need to invest in a little more equipment. You won’t need much so this is a perfect time to start gradually learning the ins and outs of all that complicated mountaineering equipment you see in climbing shops.

For a class 3 rout you will want to invest in a good climbing helmet. This isn’t as much for the risk of you falling as it is for the risk of rocks falling on you. A class 3 scramble typically winds up and around tall rocky ridges and cliffs and sometimes pieces of that rock break loose from above and cause serious injuries or death if you don’t have a helmet.

Example of a class 3 scramble on Longs Peak

Example of a class 3 scramble on Longs Peak

You’ll also want a pair of approach shoes or mountaineering boots. This footwear has a special type of sole that handles particularly nice on steep rocky terrain. If you will mostly be hiking in dry areas and good weather a pair of approach shoes will usually do. If the approach (trail leading up to the technical sections) will be cold, snowy, muddy, sandy, or anything besides a dry packed trail you can either wear your regular hiking boots and switch into your approach shoes when the terrain gets technical or you can use a pair of mountaineering boots that will get you through almost anything. Mountaineering boots will run you about $500 so if you’re on a budget it’s probably not the best first choice for this level of climbing.

A rope and harness are usually not required for class 3 scrambles but if you can swing for those then it can be a good time to start learning how to use ropes, harnesses, and belays in mountaineering.

Training for your first class 3 climb can be lots of fun. This skill isn’t as much endurance as it is focus and balance. If you’ve been doing allot of trail running on rough terrain then you’re already on a great start. But you should also consider some activities such as yoga or slacklining to improve your balance, focus, and flexibility.

Do a little research and read some trail and rout descriptions to get an idea of the exact terrain you’ll be encountering and any accessories that might be handy to have along the way. But lastly, don’t be afraid to just go out there and try a class 3 rout. Most of these will be pretty easy to downclimb so if you ever get to a point you’re not comfortable there’s never any shame in turning around and trying again later.

 

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Trail Running for Mountaineering

 

Trail running is nothing new, people have been doing it for many years, but until recently it has been considered a fringe sport. In the past few years trail running has become much more mainstream as has mountaineering.

With flocks of people rushing to the mountains to admire the overpowering mountain peaks and dream of one day standing atop them all, the question often arises; how do I become a mountaineer.

As with any sport, to become one of the experts you see in magazines and movies takes many years of hard work, dedication, and risk. You probably don’t realize that the best way to start your journey to becoming a mountaineer might be right in your own backyard, or, at least, a short drive to the edge of town.

I’m talking about trail running. The other day standing at the trailhead of a local in-town trail getting ready for my run I counted 3 runners pass the trailhead and continue down the sidewalk not even glancing at the trail and it occurred to me how many athletes out there go running every day and never even consider the possibilities, or benefits thereof, to going off-road.

As it relates to mountaineering, endurance is key. You’ll be battling the elements at high elevation over long distances and durations so running is naturally an effective way to train for such an activity. But take the running to an unpaved trail and you increase your training tenfold. Running off road doesn’t just boost your endurance; it increases your agility, awareness, footing, and balance. Trail running also opens possibilities for much more challenging terrain. Where there are limits to how steep a road can be there are no limits for trails.

As a mountaineer you’ll encounter a wide range of terrain obstacles to overcome from steep switchbacks and boulder fields to knife-edged ridges with steep drop offs and straight up cliffs. Trail running prepares you for all of this. Running over uneven terrain you’re moving quick so you must increase your awareness. Everything around you; the rocks on the ground, the potholes, the puddles, the exposed tree roots, the changing pitch of the ground, tree branches, bugs, everything. It all becomes ever so clear when you’re running, perhaps not right away, but with practice you’ll learn to be more aware and this will help you safely navigate those tricky sections of the mountain and spot routs where you didn’t think there was one.

Mountaineering also requires a great deal of agility and balance. Trail running will develop these skills for you. When you’re trail running your foot isn’t striking a perfectly flat and even surface as it would on the road. It’s striking rocks, potholes, mud, sudden changes in pitch, tree roots, ruts, and its figuring it all out at high speed. Once you develop these skills in trail running they become so second nature that when you’re on a narrow rocky ridge, your foothold gives way, and your toe catches a random slab it will automatically know what to do and you’ll keep going.

Lastly, there is no road, that I’m aware of, that can match the pitches you’ll find on a mountain. You can run all you want on a road and still not develop the necessary endurance to ascend a steep snow field or couloir. As you advance in trail running you eventually move on to steeper, more technical terrain where you can train to run up the same pitches you’ll be climbing on the mountain.

There are many mountains that require absolutely no technical climbing experience to summit. They simply have a trail to the top. That’s right; an experienced trail runner can become a mountaineer by simply running to the top and bagging their first peak. Of course trail running alone won’t get you ready for Everest but if you start with trail running the rest of the skills will jut fall into place with time and practice.

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How to buy an Ice Axe

 

If you’re new to mountaineering then buying your first ice axe or ice tool can be real confusing and buying the wrong axe or tool could be disastrous. Here is a basic breakdown of the different types of ice axes available and what they should, or shouldn’t be used for.

Ice Axe vs Ice Tool

Ice Tool with Hammer

Ice Tool

Ice Axe with Adze

Ice Axe

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ice Tool:

Ice tools have a T rated head (noted with a T stamped on the pick) and a short curved shaft. They are used for climbing vertical ice or mixed ice/rock walls where you will be constantly putting all of your weight on the head. A quality ice tool will feel rather heavy because strong thick metals are used to ensure the axe doesn’t break under the abuse climbers put them through.

Ice Axe:

An ice axe typically has a longer straight shaft with a B rated head (noted with  B stamped on the pick). These are used to navigate steep glaciers and snow fields most commonly as a walking stick. The head is commonly used to break up snow and ice to cut steps or clear an area for camp and break loose gear that froze to the ground. With experience an ice axe can be used to stop yourself in a fall using a technique known as self arrest

B vs T Head

B (Basic):

Basic heads are marked with a B stamped on the head and are found only in ice axes. These heads are made of softer metals and generally weigh less.

T (Technical)

Technical heads are marked with a T stamped on the head and are mostly found on ice tools. These heads are made of steel and undergo rigorous testing to make sure they can handle torquing in every direction. They usually weight substantially more than a B head.

Mixed Axes

One last note on mixed use axes. For specialized situations some manufactures make ice axes with T rated heads. This allows you to put your full weight on the head of an ice axe to climb vertical walls. The ergonomic design of an ice axe is not optimized for vertical climbing so this type of axe is uncommon.

 

 

 

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Winter 2013-2014 Snow Forecast

 

It’s that time of year again. Winter people start emerging from their summer hibernation caves and tune up their skis, boards, sleds, and snowshoes for an anticipated winter of epic snowfall. The last few years have been a roller coaster for snowfall across the US with a record setting 2010-2011 winter followed by a disappointing 2011-2012 season. Fortunately things are looking up for many parts of the US as early fall models are pointing towards below average temperatures and average to above average snowfall in many areas.

First let’s take a look at winter 2012-2013 and see where we’ve come since then. We talked a lot about the NAO (North Atlantic Oscillation) in last year’s forecast because that is what so negatively affected the east coast area in winter 2011-2012. Typically a negative NAO will result in a cold snowy winter for the east and a positive NAO will result in a warm dry winter for the east. The figure below shows the NAO phase for winter 2012-2013 in the shaded area. Needless to say the NAO was negative and actual snow conditions were substantially better than the year prior. This is in line with what we predicted in last year’s forecast.

http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/data/teledoc/nao_ts.shtml

Last year’s forecast models were trending towards a weak El Nino winter that would have brought good snow for the Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming areas with below average snow for the northwest and into Montana. This isn’t what happened. Although an El Nino started to form in late summer 2012 it stalled out in late fall and ended up in neutral conditions. With a neutral El Nino, or “La Nada” as some call it, in place the normal weather drivers took over and brought pretty average winter conditions for those areas. Although it was average, it was a big improvement over the previous winter.

Now let’s take a look at the current conditions and compare them to the last three winters that consist of one record setting above average snow year, one record setting below average winter, and one very average snowfall winter. The NAO spent the majority of last summer in positive territory as seen in the shaded area of the plot below showing through September.

http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/precip/CWlink/pna/month_nao_index.shtml

As you can see it’s now trending downward and the latest models are suggesting this trend will continue. Bottom line I expect it will remain positive through the fall and possibly early winter. But more than likely it will be in negative territory for most of the winter.

The summer of 2012 had a strong negative NAO which stayed negative for most of winter 2012-2013 so that is not real analogous to what we see for this coming winter or even the record mild winter of 2011-2012, where the NAO started negative in the summer and sharply went positive for the winter, and the epic winter of 2010-2011 that was just a more extreme example of last winter. This year really is a whole new deck of cards unlike the last three in regards to the NAO. The most recent year that was similar to what I expect this winter was winter 2007-2008 where snowfall was above normal in the north east with some local all-time-record snow totals for Concord New Hampshire and Burlington Vermont.

The next big player to look at is the state of the El Nino – La Nina cycle (ENSO). Last year I predicted a weak El Nino. Turns out I was wrong and the El Nino cycle stayed about neutral. The plot below shows the forecast for several ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) models of how much the sea surface temperature will vary in degrees Celsius from normal this winter in the shaded area. Usually I look at the average between all of the models to get a scope of what might actually happen. This year it isn’t really necessary. For conditions to be in any kind of El Nino or La Nina phase the sea sufferance temperature (SST) variance from normal, AKA Anomalies, would have to be outside the area marked by the red lines.

http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/lanina/enso_evolution-status-fcsts-web.pdf

None of the models come close to going outside the ‘neutral’ El Nino zone in the winter months to come.

Looking at past years with similar conditions for the west I expect slightly below average temperatures for Montana, Wyoming, western Colorado, and eastern Utah with average to slightly above average temperatures for WA, OR, ID, CA, NV, and AZ. El Nino and La Nina events tend to swing the pendulum one way or the other for snowfall; splitting the southwest and northwest with one having great snow and leaving the other in a drought. In the absence of an El Nino, history has shown, we’re likely to get a much more even distribution of average to above average snowfall all over the western US including the Wasatch, front range, Cascades etc. Although it’s still early to tell for sure, I see no indication that it will be anything but a snowy winter for the west.

The ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) is such a big force in weather that when an El Nino or La Nina is present it pretty much defines the winter weather for the western half of the US. In a year like this where the ENSO will be neutral opens up the possibilities for many other driving forces to move in and make winter interesting. As a generalization I would expect average conditions for snowfall and temperatures for most of the west. With the official start of winter still being almost 3 months away and with so many possible localized variables in the absence of an ENSO event your local area could be in for anything this winter.

Now for all of you that just want the overall bottom line. The northeast should expect very cold temperatures with lots of snow and frequent storms. Keep caution out for some bad ice storms in the southeast.  Montana, Wyoming, western Colorado, and eastern Utah will have a very cold winter with above average snowfall while WA, OR, ID, CA, NV, and AZ will have about average temperatures and average snowfall with the possibility for well above average snowfall in localized situations. As usual I have posted a map of this year’s Farmer’s Almanac winter forecast since it’s always a good idea to consider more than one point of view when making your winter plans.

http://www.farmersalmanac.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/2014-USFA-Winter.jpg

 

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Winter Storm Brutus is Bringing Snow and Cold to the West

 

http://weather.unisys.com/gfsx/gfsx.php?inv=0&plot=hght&region=us&t=l

You’d better enjoy the warm weather outside, if you still have it, because things are about to change. A strong series of winter storms will be pounding the country over the next 10 days beginning with winter storm Brutus. Snow has already started to fall in parts of Montana and is rapidly spreading south and east. Brutus will likely bring blizzard conditions and several inches of snow across Montana and over the mountains in Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado which is great news for skiers and resorts that will be opening in the next couple weeks. Snow will arrive in Wyoming, Western Colorado and Utah by late Friday. The Snow will likely become more widespread in the mid Rockies by Friday night into Saturday. Localized accumulations are expected to be over a foot in some areas of Montana by end of day Saturday. This storm will likely bring high winds and large amounts of snow to many mountainous areas which will land on a weak or non existent snow pack. Snow loading is likely and can create dangerous Avalanche conditions. Make sure you call your local avalanche center to get the conditions report before heading into the backcountry and verify the conditions yourself on location before you start up. As you can see in the model above there looks to be a strong chance of two other systems following this storm but it’s to early to give specifics on them. Much colder temperatures will follow these storms so enjoy the warm weather while it lasts and get your skis ready!

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2012-2013 Ski Season Has Officially Begun!

 

Yesterday, October 7th, Wild Mountain Minnesota became the first ski area in the nation to open kicking off the 2o12-2013 ski season. The Previous Opening day record for Wild Mountain was set in 1982 when they opened on October 18th. The two rivals, Arapahoe Basin and Loveland Ski Area, are typically the first to open but missed the mark this year. However, they are fallowing close behind having started making snow last week and could possibly open as soon as next week but neither has set a specific opening day yet.

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Cold and Snow Will Fly Across the Country This Week!

 
NAM - US - 500mb - 60 hour Loop

http://weather.unisys.com/nam/nam.php?plot=500&inv=0&t=l

Its been a long time coming since the end of last years pathetic winter and winter people everywhere have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of this winter for a hopefully epic do-over.  Although I can’t guarantee record breaking snowfall on the slopes this winter it does look like we are getting a nice solid early start. The forecast models are calling for a strong cold front to drop into the Rockys late Tuesday night bringing low temperatures well below freezing for many areas and especially at higher elevations. There’s not much moisture in the atmosphere but this front is strong enough that it will squeeze out any moisture it can find leaving the possibility for some moderate amounts of snow particularly in the mountains. On Wednesday the front should move on into the plains still bringing high temperatures only in the 50′s in many areas with lows dropping below freezing in the north and bringing the possibility of snow to many areas in the Dakotas and northern Minnesota. By Thursday the cold air mass will be well settled in over much of the country with high temperatures in the 60′s as far south as Texas. Ahead of the cold front will bring unseasonably warm temperatures for a day or two, the “Warm Before the Storm”  as they say. You should do your best to enjoy that warm day or two as it may just be the last summer-like day for many areas. As always, don’t forget to pray for snow!

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Winter 2012-2013 Snow Forecast Outlook

 

It’s the middle of August, the dog days of summer, and most of us are running around with shorts and t-shirts in 90+ degree temperatures. But, for those winter people out there you’ve probably noticed an increase in talk about this upcoming ski season. New 2012-2013 winter gear is starting to arrive at shops around the country and questions are being raised about this upcoming winter weather. After arguably one of the worst ski seasons on record I feel like Mother Nature owes us a good season this winter. I’ve read through many preliminary 2012-2013 winter forecasts from credible and somewhat not so credible sources and mixed in some of my own educated background in meteorology and climatology to give you my best prediction on what you can expect this winter.

First let’s talk about last winter 2011-2012. After an epic 2010-2011 record setting winter the web was flooding with comments about a possible repeat epic winter. This is largely due to a negative NAO (North Atlantic Oscillation) over the summer of 2011. During the winter a negative NAO correlates to cold temperatures and above average snowfall for the east and, 9 out of 10 times, a negative summer NAO leads to a negative winter NAO. What happened last winter was that 1/10 chance falling in to place when the NAO suddenly went positive as highlighted in Figure 1 below.

http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/data/teledoc/nao_ts.shtml

The large amounts of snow in the cascades and parts of Alaska can be attributed the La Nina winter but at the same time it was responsible for below normal snow packs around Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. With the exception of a few isolated cases like Fox Creek and Steamboat Springs Colorado the skiing was pretty pathetic for these states which also lead to the drought conditions and high fire dangers we’re seeing this summer in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.

The good news is that the patterns that caused the historically warm and dry winter of 2011-2012 have almost or completely changed. In Figure 1 above you can see we are in a strong negative NAO and this should continue on through winter bringing cold temperatures and higher than average snowfall to the northeast. From the data I’ve seen it looks like we are also in for a weak El-Nino so the mid-Rockies (CO, UT, and WY) can expect a big improvement over last winter. Although they will see about average to slightly above average snowfalls there is still the possibility for localized record setters and let’s not forget that even an average winter for those states can be pretty epic. The weak El-Nino could be bad news for the north east and Montana because any kind of El-Nino event usually brings dryer and warmer conditions to these areas. But it’s only a weak El-Nino so it might not actually be that bad, it just won’t be as epic for the north west as last winter.

For those of you that skimmed past all of the above explanation, here’s the bottom line. Northeast, you could be in for an epic ski season; CO, UT, and WY can expect average temperatures and snowfall but still a heck of a lot more snow than last year. For the northwest and Montana it will be a little dry but probably not as bad as the mid Rockies saw last winter. For those of you that like to rely on the time tested forecasting methods here is the Farmer’s Almanac 2012-2013 winter forecast. It differs a little from mine but it’s still early and there are a lot of other factors that can dramatically change the winter forecast with short notice.

http://www.farmersalmanac.com/forum/2012/07/23/new-official-2012-2013-united-states-winter-forecast/

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Illinois Mountaineer Dies in Glacier National Park Fall

 

Illinois mountaineer and exotic plant team worker for Glacier National park Jacob Rigby was found dead after being reported missing at 2:00am Monday. His body was spotted by SAR helicopter 2:00p.m Friday. The reports say Jacob could have fallen about 800 feet down the north face of the extremely steep and treacherous 8888 peak in Glacier National Park.

Over 50 people helped with the search after Jacob was noticed overdue back from a personal day hike on Sunday. The terrain where Jacob was hiking is extremely steep and dangerous where only the most experienced hikers and mountaineers go. 31 of the searchers were hiking and camping in this treacherous area during the search process.

 

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