Over the last two months, most of the United States and southern Canada have been locked into a “snow drought”, but for parts of Vermont, at least, some significant snow may be on the way.
Snow has been hard to come by this winter in East Middlebury, and it seems that each time we pick up an inch or two, a thaw or rainstorm comes along and melts it. The seasonably cold temperatures and lack of snow have meant ice, and lots of it, and the icy rivers and streams seem out of place flowing through the snowless forests. The lack of snow cover has also led to solidly frozen ground, which could translate into a soggy mud season this spring.
Vermont is not alone in its lack of snow so far this winter. Most of the “lower 48” states have picked up little or no snow thus far this winter, a dramatic difference from last year. Oddly, southern New Mexico and western Texas have been snowy, which is great news for this drought stricken region. California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, on the other hand, are still nearly snow-free this winter. Most of California experiences little or no summer precipitation, and relies on Sierra snowmelt for summer water, so if significant snowfall does not occur in the next few months, the area will be in for a difficult summer.
Where is the snow? Parts of coastal Alaska have been absolutely buried in the stuff. The Austrian Alps have also been receiving dumpings of snow. This winter has played out as an almost exact opposite of last winter, and the reason may be a poorly-understood jet stream phenomena known as the Arctic Oscillation. As described in this blog post by meteorologist Jeff Masters, the “negative” phase of the Arctic Oscillation that occurred last year favored heavy snow in much of the United States, while the current “positive” phase favors warmer, dry conditions.
The lack of snow in Vermont has been hard on snow lovers, especially those who depend on snow sports to make a living. Not everyone is disappointed by the winter, however - a friend who works for Central Vermont Public Service has told me that the thus-far mild winter has been very helpful for finishing up repairs from Irene’s devastation last summer.
Snow is finally in the forecast for Vermont with a two-part storm moving into the state. Today’s storm will feature easterly winds and tomorrow’s storm will feature northwesterly winds, so both slopes of the Green Mountains should pick up similar totals - perhaps 8 or 10 inches - by the weekend. In the Champlain Valley, sleet and rain mixing with the snow may limit total accumulation to a couple of inches. More seasonable weather with occasional snow is in the long-range forecast, so there is a good chance that I will finally get to try out my new cross country skis next week (though Breadloaf may be a better bet than the Middlebury golf course). As for the rest of the winter, there are some indications that the positive Arctic Oscillation pattern may wind down, but it is too early to say for sure. There is still a chance for my forecast of above average snow to come true this winter, but at this point it is not looking likely. Maybe I should have stuck with looking at the woolly bears.