Very often, when we reach St. Patrick's Day, the attention of skiers and riders starts to turn to other pursuits such as tennis, golf, bike riding, or gardening. The lift lines start to shrink as a mild day pops up here and there, followed by a stretch of several days that feel warm as soon as you walk out the door.
Pretty soon, you're stowing away the skis or the board for the summer, even though the mountains are still buried with snow. This year, it doesn't look as though those warm weather "distractions" are going to be viable for quite some time, as we are in the midst of what is a remarkable run of late winter/early spring weather. The first day of astronomical spring is this Thursday, but the weather doesn't appear to have any interest in transitioning to spring warmth any time soon. In fact, I think we are headed for perhaps the coldest final week of March in the past 50 years, thanks mostly to an unrelenting upper level trough that has spent most of the winter parked over east-central Canada.
The counter-clockwise flow around that trough has tapped arctic and Siberian air much of this winter, helped by an anomalously warm pool of water over the northeastern Pacific Ocean that has promoted an upper level ridge over western Canada. The circulation around the ridge is clockwise, so it works in tandem with the trough to dig into the cold air sitting over the higher latitudes. As anyone who lives by the ocean knows, it takes a long time for water to change its' temperature, and as long as that warm pool sits there, it will promote the set-up that delivers cold air.
In addition, the snow cover over the eastern half of Canada is very deep anywhere from 30 to 60 inches and that will continue to refrigerate the air before it sweeps into the U.S., which the jet stream will tend to do for the foreseeable future.
Not only will the eastern trough keep it colder than normal, it will provide the foundation for potential late season snowfalls. The southern branch of the jet stream has been more active the past few weeks, although the northeast has missed out on a couple of storms because the northwesterly flow has been too strong, thus suppressing the storm track. In order to spin up a major storm, you have to get the two branches to work together, or phase. A burst of westerly winds in the tropical pacific this month continues, and that is an indication that the southern branch will remain energized. The storm track migrates northward as we move into spring, so although the northeast whiffed on the storm that has brought Washington D.C. a white St. Patrick's Day, the odds favor above normal snowfall in this part of the country over the next few weeks a blockbuster storm is a threat, too, due to the energetic pattern we are in.
The cold weather has another benefit for skiers and riders it allows the groomers to continue to work the magic with their machines. When nighttime lows do not drop well below freezing, the snow can't support the weight of the machines as easily, and when surfaces morph into mashed potatoes as it turns warmer, there comes a time when the grooming is done strictly by traffic. That means some pretty ugly surface conditions on those mornings when the temperature drops low enough to cause the snow to stiffen up but doesn't permit the Pisten Bulleys to create corduroy. I have no worries about the mashed potato season developing for several more weeks, at least. Rather, I think you should keep your eyes open for late season powder days, because I would be very surprised if we get out of the current pattern without at least one, if not two or three significant snow events in the mountains between now and mid-April.
Easter is late this year, but the resorts that are committed to staying open until then or beyond should have conditions more than worth your consideration for spring break. With so much frost in the ground and more very cold weather on the table, golf courses and gardens are going to be muddy much later than normal, so grab some sunscreen, load up your boards, and make plans for great late season sliding.
Here are a few special events that might be of interest
Wachusett Mtn., MA-Cardboard Box Race and Deck Party 3/22
Bromley, VT-Spring Fling 3/22
Bousquet, MA-Cardboard Carnival 3/22
Belleayre Mtn., NY-Turn 'N Burn Mogul Competition-3/22
Plattekill Mtn., NY-Beach Party 3/22
Hunter Mtn., NY-Hunter Hell Track 3/22
Cannon Mtn., NH-2nd
Loon Mtn., NH-Battle of the Bumps 3/22, Cardboard Box Race 3/23
Waterville Valley, NH-Howl at the Moon Big Air Under the Lights 3/22; Annual Rando Race 3/23; Annual Old School Duel & Retro 80's Day 3/22