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It’s called the storm track 9 December 2012

Posted by magicdufflepud in Colorado, Skiing.
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Snow in Denver

…and it matters. A whole lot.

Back before I understood anything at all about weather I thought that snow was mostly a matter of luck. A storm came in, or it didn’t. And sometimes it snowed in the right places. Those desperate times when the sky remained an unbroken blue dome, well, those were just fate. To my mind, forecasting was a matter of correctly predicting the next day’s high and lows as well as the snow that might or might fall. Perhaps that’s what it still means to you.

But I was wrong all around. Forecasting is also about understanding trends in the weather. Not macro-level climate stuff, but what might happen one, two or three weeks from now based on all kinds of crazy things like air masses and ocean temperatures. The storms everyone loves so much don’t just float about willy-nilly; they follow an ever-shifting highway of sorts as they cross the country, arriving from the Pacific or the Arctic (or elsewhere) then making their way across the country and out into the Atlantic, if they manage get that far. Along the way, they bring with them the characteristics of their place of origin: warm, moist storms from the Pacific that hammer Tahoe with feet upon feet of Sierra cement–Arctic storms like the most recent one that left Colorado mountains more than a foot of snow in some places and temps that barely rose above 0 degrees.

For December, Joel Gratz, co-founder and chief meteorologist over at OpenSnow.com–a site you should absolutely explore–brings us this helpful diagram:

Is it coincidence that old track resembled a frown while the new one brings a smile? Of course it is. But who cares? As Joel says, while we might not see miracles after a disappointing start to the season (read: pretty much no snow in November), this shift at least promises more frequent storms through Colorado. And although everyone loves huge dumps, building a base to ski requires consistency. The odds don’t favor another 2010/11 season around these parts, but no one can complain about a little more snow. And now at least, we’ll know where it comes from.