Utah: Land of powder thieves
California’s Mammoth Mountain received nearly 5 feet of snow last week, Alta, Utah, was buried under more than 3 feet and Aspen picked up 2 – inches, that is.A monster of a storm slowly churned its way through the Sierra Nevada and the Wasatch ranges all of last week, promising to eventually unleash its load on Aspen.Mammoth, which opened Thursday, is boasting its earliest top-to-bottom opening in 10 years after the storm.”It’s so good, like midwinter conditions,” said Joani Lynch, Mammoth Mountain communications manager, Saturday. “When the top opened yesterday, it was so nice. It wasn’t champagne powder, but it was lighter than I expected. It wasn’t Sierra cement.”Lynch said she didn’t hit any rocks and ski patrol reported measurements close to 6 feet in Cornice Bowl, near the top of the mountain.”The storms were on the warmer side, which makes for a great base,” she added.The National Weather Service had issued numerous winter storm warnings for the Aspen area heading into the weekend, with 10-20 inches forecast above 9,000 feet.But in the end, the monster dump was nothing more than a tiny belch as the storm seemed to disappear at the Utah border.It’s no secret that Utah routinely steals our storms.”Basically Utah cheated us,” said Joe Ramey, a weather service meteorologist in Grand Junction. “They got all of our moisture we were forecasting.”We got kind of ripped off on that one.”It’s almost as if there’s a storm-deflecting shield at the state line, but that couldn’t be. Or could it? Storms that are fueled by a southwest flow, as the last event was, cross several mountain ranges en route to central Colorado, and those natural barriers can cut off the moisture from the Pacific, Ramey said.”The Elks are shielded out to the southwest by the La Salles, the Uncompahgre Plateau, Grand Mesa and the West Elks,” he said. “Finally when it gets to the Elks it’s running out of a lot of moisture.”While Ramey stated every storm is unique, he said the Aspen area is typically favored by storms that come in from the northwest, or are energized by a northwest flow.”Northwest Colorado likes a northwest flow, southwest Colorado likes a south to southwest flow, and Utah is oriented in different ways” by the Salt Lake and lake-effect snows, he said. “But we are also looking at where the jet stream is, and where we might be getting strong [energy].”And Colorado’s position also makes forecasting storms difficult. “We are so far from the ocean and that is a huge variable to us,” Ramey said.Mammoth, located in the southern Sierra Nevada, is the opposite, as its storms come straight off the Pacific. The area is also largely impacted by El Niño events, a warming of the surface waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean. El Niño years typically bury resorts in the area under massive amounts of snow.Mammoth’s opening is its earliest since 1994, which was the last significant El Niño event. Current projections indicate a weak to moderate El Niño this year, according to Ramey.Ramey said the Sierra Nevada and Wasatch regions can expect more of the same this week, while Aspen will have a shot at a couple weak disturbances before a bigger system approaches this weekend.Aspen Skiing Co. spokesman Jeff Hanle said it’s no big deal that Aspen missed out on this past storm.”It’s not supposed to snow here until Halloween anyway,” he joked. “I don’t think the weather gods are picking on us, that’s just the way it’s always been.”The snow will eventually come when it’s least expected.”Steve Benson’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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