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Is This Weekend’s Snow a View of the Future?

A friend mentioned to us this morning that we needed to listen to a radioWest interview with Jim Steenburgh, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Utah. She found his comments on how increasing temperatures will impact Utah snowfall interesting. He basically said that Alta and Snowbird would have a ski industry for a long time, due to their elevation. He felt the Park City resorts would continue to get snow at higher elevations but lower elevations would pose a problem. The takeaway is that elevations above 7,000 feet would continue to get snow regularly. However, the bases of Park City resorts would likely get a lot less snow than they do now. He also made it clear (perhaps half in jest) that people who enjoy cross country skiing at lower elevations may want to find another sport.

Then later his afternoon we were excited to read about a Winter Storm Warning for the Wasatch. We dug into the details and got less excited. We started thinking how this forecast dovetails into the interview with Professor Steenburgh. Here is the winter storm warning from the National Weather Service (NWS):

Winter Storm Warning remains in effect from Midnight Tonight to 6 pm MST Monday above 7000 feet.

  • Affected area: The Wasatch and Western Uinta mountain ranges and the northwestern portions of the Wasatch Plateau.
  • Snow accumulations: accumulations of 10 to 20 inches. Primarily above about 7500 feet. Locally greater amounts are possible above 8000 feet across the Wasatch Range.
  • Timing: snow will increase across the Wasatch Mountains tonight, then spread south and east across the remainder of the northern mountains by early Sunday. Rain and snow will continue heavy at times Sunday through early Monday, then gradually decrease in intensity and areal coverage Monday afternoon.
  • Snow levels: snow levels at the beginning of the storm will be near 6000 feet. Snow levels will rise to near 7500 to 8000 feet Sunday morning and remain high Sunday night then lower again below 6000 feet on Monday.

We noted, according to the NWS, that the majority of heavy snow will be above 7500 feet. There will be quite a bit of rain below those elevations. For reference, Deer Valley’s base is at about 6500 feet. Yes, there will be snow at the base but there will likely be a decent amount of rainy-mix too.

So, what does that portend for our future? The reality is that no one knows. Even Professor Steenburgh caveated his study, noting that weather is complex. It also doesn’t take into account snow making. That said, if it’s raining at certain elevations you can’t really make snow there.

Therefore, we look at this weekend as an opportunity to see what winter in Park City might be like in 10-20 years. We’ll pay attention to what people are doing. Are people skiing or are they hanging out at coffee shops, instead? Is the traffic coming up from SLC horrible or is it pretty light? Are people happy or do they have that look on their face you get when you are soaking wet? We don’t know what the outcome will be but it should be in interesting to watch.

Above all, it may be an informative visit from the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.


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