New Aspen service aims to provide more accurate forecasts
November 24, 2011
ASPEN – Short-term weather predictions for the Aspen-Snowmass area often prove inaccurate, especially when it comes to snowfall.
The weekend of Nov. 12 was yet another case in point, with official National Weather Service warnings of a massive winter storm for Aspen and much of the Western Slope, complete with gusting winds and dumping snow at higher elevations.
Those reports turned out to be false: The winds kicked up, but snow accumulation in the upper Roaring Fork Valley amounted to not much more than a mid-November tease.
But two men with backgrounds in weather forecasting hope to take the mystery out of local weather forecasting with their new Internet service, aspenweather.net.
Ryan Boudreau, who has handled weather duties for Plum TV in recent years, and Cory Gates, who spent nearly two decades with the NWS analyzing weather data and making predictions, are the primary partners behind the fledgling venture. Boudreau lives in Aspen while Gates is a Basalt resident.
They say that their combined expertise in the field – with Boudreau as the “face” of the website and Gates as the “behind the scenes” guy who researches patterns and translates the data – will mean less guesswork for locals and visitors who want to know what to expect from the upcoming winter and spring ski season.
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“There are so many bad forecasts out there, especially for our area,” Boudreau said. “The forecasts most people get from The Weather Channel or the National Weather Service are very general.
“They’ll put out a winter storm warning for Aspen and then they never update their forecasts. They just leave the warning there. People think we’re gonna get two feet of snow and then wonder why it didn’t happen.”
Boudreau explained that the major weather-forecasting services lump Aspen into a wide geographical expanse that also includes Vail and other areas of the Western Slope. But, more often than not, a storm will give one area a nice heaping of fresh snow while leaving the other area high and dry.
That’s why it’s important to understand local weather trends and tailor the forecast to the immediate area, he said.
“We know how the wind blows in Aspen,” Boudreau said. “Certain winds, mainly from the west, bring us the most snow. A storm coming from the southwest – those San Juan Mountains are so big – doesn’t do us a lot of good. The storm loses its moisture by the time it gets to Aspen.”
Of course, Boudreau and Gates aren’t starting the new weather service out of the goodness of their hearts.
Boudreau said they will be gratified when people use the site for practical and recreational purposes and enjoy it. He plans to provide video slope-side forecasts on the site to add some extra flavor to Gates’ predictions, which are anything but vague and one-dimensional.
“Cory explains a lot,” Boudreau said. “He really gets into it. You’ll learn a lot about weather just reading his forecasts. He really blows people’s minds with his accuracy.”
Gates said there are quite a few challenges involved in predicting local weather.
“Have you ever noticed after a snowstorm, you’ll look at the reports and see 24 inches for Crested Butte and then look up Aspen Highlands and it’ll say 5 inches, for the same storm,” Gates said. “Different mountain ranges are oriented a certain way.
“If you look at Crested Butte, which is not far from us as the crow flies, a southwest wind for them is an upslope wind. Here in Aspen, a southwest wind has to cross the San Juan Mountains, and it has to cross Crested Butte and the West Elk Mountains. It has to cross two mountain ranges before it gets to us. And our mountain ranges are oriented toward the west and northwest, so a southwest wind blows downslope.”
But the website’s users need not delve into such complexities. They merely need to visit the site and read or watch the forecasts.
What’s relevant, Gates said, is that Aspen and Snowmass are in line for great snow year, thanks to a moderate La Nina weather pattern.
“If you remember 2007-08, that was a strong La Nina, and everybody called it the ‘epic winter of all time.’ Last year was a great winter and a strong La Nina as well. This year, it’s a moderate La Nina. It’s almost impossible to have bad snowfall during La Nina winters.”
By the way, aspenweather.net isn’t predicting any significant snowfall for Aspen and Snowmass over the next week or so. But conditions will be great for snowmaking with many sunny days and cold nights, Gates said.
“The next seven days should be fairly dull in terms of natural snow,” he said.
He’s predicting 344 inches of snowfall this winter for Aspen Mountain and 380 inches for Snowmass Ski Area. Vail should fare better, Gates said, with 435 inches.