After a weekend of soft packed powder conditions, skiers and riders all across the Northeast woke up Monday to southerly winds, mild temperatures, and rain. Not that there is ever a time when that stuff is good for winter sports folks, but it is a Monday and not a Friday, so the impact on sliding plans will be minimized.
Thankfully, the quick warm-up will be just that ... quick. Colder air is already on the doorstep, and by tonight, the cold front leading to a dramatic drop in temperatures will have moved offshore. Some light snow will fall in the mountains as the cold air catches up to the back end of the departing slug of moisture, but it won't be enough to cover the sins of today's wet, mild weather.
By Tuesday morning, another shot from the arctic was in place all across the eastern half of the country. That is going to lead to another challenge to groomers and snowmakers in the mountains, because those soft surface conditions that we enjoyed the past few days are going to firm up considerably. Once again, the Pisten Bullies will be crawling all over the slopes, grinding the hard top layer into a much more "playable" granular consistency. The arsenal of tower-mounted snow guns will be firing, adding a layer of "top dressing" snow to help the transformation back to softer surfaces. As recently as 15 or 20 years ago, a thaw/freeze event like the one we are witnessing this week would have taken many, many days to recover from, but the advances in grooming and snowmaking now make it possible to transform "linoleum" into sugar and powder much more quickly.
I guess if we have one thing to be grateful for it is that the core of the cold air will not drive directly into the Northeast the Midwest will be the recipients of the coldest of the cold, thanks to a piece of the polar vortex breaking off and descending into the country through the western Great Lakes. The temperatures at roughly 5,000 feet give forecasters their best indication of what surface temperatures will be like and if we look at what those temperatures will look like this evening, the Northeast will not be getting the worst of the cold.
You may notice the winds barbs on this map suggest that the coldest air will be heading into the region, and it will, but it will modify as it spreads east, sparing us a day when the temperature on the slopes will not get above zero during the daylight hours that will be the case today in spots like Chicago, Indianapolis and Dayton.
The cold will dominate through much of this week, and the snowmakers in the mountains will be able to churn out tons and tons of new snow if you are skiing and riding don't forget your goggles!
At the lower elevation areas of southern New England, it will turn mild enough to limit their efforts to the overnight hours by the end of the week, but make no mistake about it, conditions will be improving steadily once the cold air is back in place by early Tuesday. The irony is that after a spell of extensive snowmaking, a shot of rain actually helps many resorts, as it helps to recharge the water source for subsequent snowmaking. By Friday, a weak disturbance will spin across the Northeast and produce a little light snow, with a mix of precip types close to the coast it does not look like a big event, however.
A warm-up is lurking mid-month. That is not the climatologically favored time for the January thaw, so perhaps we shouldn't call it that, but names aside, it looks like the jet stream will turn more westerly from later this weekend through much of next week. That will change the prime source region for our air masses from northwestern Canada and Siberia to the northeast Pacific Ocean, and that maritime air will flood across the country and lead to a widespread warm-up during the week of the 13th and the jet stream should once again turn more northwesterly over New York and New England by the weekend of the 18th.
It does not look like it will last very long, though, and that will restore a colder than normal regime to the region, allowing snowmakers to get back to work it will also enhance the chances for natural snow. Speaking of natural snow next week's warm-up does not look like an overly dramatic one to me at this point, and it is not out of the question that small scale disturbances could traverse the U.S./Canadian border at times next week, which could produce some light to moderate snow in the far northern resorts of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, as well as in Quebec, and that would certainly limit the impact of any attempted thaw.
So, we have been riding a wild ride with respect to temperatures in the mountains much of this season, and that will continue for the next ten days or so. Keep the faith, though, because the mountain crews at the resorts will be working their magic 24/7 to provide you with surfaces you will be happy with, and I think you will be very happy with the conditions you will find by mid and late week despite temperature drops over a 24 hour period of 50 degrees or more!
Ahhh winter in New England