Winter Outlook (2010-2011)

By:  Lionel Hutz
October 6, 2010 11:02 am | Category: Weather

So before we dive in and I stick my neck out there, lets get a few things out of the way.fill First my goal is to give you an overall idea of what is in store, and when I think such and such a pattern will exist. I believe in using a very broad brush overall, but highlighting some issues I feel more confident about. Secondly, the NE is a pretty large area and a few miles north, south, east, west can make a huge difference. So understand that at least at some locations in the NE, this outlook will be trashed very soon. Lastly, it will snow infinity inches at Magic.

Got all that? Ok, lets move on.

Overall it is pretty widely accepted that we are entering a La Nina pattern. However there is substantial discussion over exactly what type of Nina we are going to get. Some people believe this will become a strong Nina, some believe weak to moderate. Some believe the SST’s will be based to the west, some believe they will be based to the east. Yes, this all matters…in fact it matters a great deal. However, I’m nowhere near well versed enough to opine as to what I think the ENSO state will do. That’s some PHD level stuff right there. Thankfully, I don’t really need to. I can use a blend of possible analog years we could be headed into and extract some common patterns and themes from these years.

Theme 1: Active but Messy

I believe that the Northeast …pause: lets define that term. When I speak of the north east I mean an area bounded by the southern edge of the Catskills, Berkshires, White Mountains, central Maine and the Canadian border (Still confused…well look here)…I believe that the Northeast will be active. However, I think the mean storm track will lie to the NW of where it was last year. Last year the storm track was suppressed to the SE and the coastal towns got POUNDED with snow. Close to 100 inches in Philly is just dumb. This year, a recurring ridge in the SE and a deep trough/cold pool in the upper plains should pull the storm track to the NW. I envision a track for developing merged stream systems (i.e. big storms) that lies within the coast and runs through Philly, NYC suburbs and into central New England. This will bring more WX to the mountains. However, the SE ridge will also bring more warm air.

Accordingly I believe many of these systems will be messy. Ice will be a problem with p-type issues common. Elevation will play a large role in snowfall and snow quality. If you can remember back to the 07-08 and 08-09 seasons you will be familiar with many of these types of storms. Good can be had from them. Sometimes stoopid good.

Associated with this storm track is the dreaded “lake cutter.” I really don’t need to go into detail about what this means for skiers but I will because I like pain. Generally these are storms that track into the great lakes and pound places like Cleveland and Chicago with heavy snow and leave the NE under warm, wet and grey skies. Then the pull to the east and drag bone chilling air masses into the region in their wake, freezing the surfaces into bulletproof granite and dropping 1 inch of windblown dust. We’ll talk about these more this year than last year. Sux but comes with the territory and we’ll prob sneak out from the worst because the storm track will be slightly to the east of the “prime cutter that screws the NE” track.

Lastly, in this active pattern I think “Miller B” storms will be more common. Briefly this is a stormed type named by the Miller Brewing company that originates near Milwaukee and sweeps through the Midwest, down into the northeast and then out to sea. It was named because it shifted the water temps in the lake where the brewers got their water and they thus ad to adjust their batch recipe. There is “A” and “B” storms- thus two batch recipes – “A” and “B”**.

Anyway, with these storms the primary low often transfers energy to a developing coastal low. This process, in this pattern, often takes place when the primary low is over Erie and Ontario, after it cut away from the coast, and the secondary is over the New York Bight. If we get an early transfer we get boo-yah snow. If we get a late transfer we get dry-slotted and not much precip.

Theme 2: Active Early Season.

In many of the comparable years I looked at, there were above average snowfalls in the late fall and early winter. Let’s bound this period by saying Halloween to New Years Eve. I believe that between now and New Years there will be three periods: cold period (in now), a warm period (say early November) and another cold period (late November to December). This could blow up in my face so give me credit for at least saying it, but I like the chances for an October snowfall that’s allows more than just Greg to schuss on grass. I think before the month is out some of this active southern stream moisture will hook up with a northern stream cold front. (When this doesn’t happen I don’t want to hear it. It takes balls to even say this..).

Beyond that, I feel that Thanksgiving to New Years will be a good time for the Northeast skiers. Ample northern stream energy and cold with still active moisture tap should allow for some really nice December days. Again looking at 07-08 and 08-09 (not perfect analogs) we see some really good November to December conditions. I think we replicate this to some extent this year.

Theme 3: Lake Effect

Because of the overall pattern I think the quite often (more than normal) the wind direction off the Great Lakes will be from 200 to 270 degrees. This – if you can’t visualize- means the winds will blow from the lakes towards the Northeast and East. This is a change from a NW direction. It bodes VERY well for the central and southern ADK, along with places along the central and Southern Green mountain spine. I believe one feature of this year will be above average lake effect snows in these regions.

Theme 4: Mid Winter blah

I’ll be blunt- I don’t love what I think Jan. will bring. I suspect some real warmth will invade the region and I don’t think we get back into the love until February. Sorry.

Theme 5: Upslope events

Lastly, I see many of these messy or wide right storms backing into the Canada, becoming vertically stacked, stable and steady. This is good news for us. This is a great pattern for periods of prolonged orographic snowfall. I think the best times for this will be December, and late January to the end of February.

Theme 6: Go West.

It’s not a secret that the Pacific NW’s biggest snow years occurred in La Nina years. However, I think the excitement felt there could be equally applied to the Wasatch. While UT has had some leaner la nina years, the best analog years indicate that come Jan. the Wasatch snows could be deep, dry and active. While this isn’t groundbreaking I felt it was worth pointing out.

Ok….so those are my thoughts. Got any questions feel free to ask away in the comments section! I’m happy to discuss my thoughts in greater detail.

** Some of this might not be true. For the proper discussion of Miller A and Miller B storms see this, or this or if you really want to get learned- follow this


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  1. Ben
    wrote on October 6th, 2010 at 12:18 pm  

    Let’s see some December 07 action!!!!

    (I like hearing about deep, dry and active in the wasatch too!!!!)

    thanks lionel!

  2. colin_extreme
    wrote on October 6th, 2010 at 1:21 pm  

    Thanks Lionel, very informative!

    Colin from “the Canada”

  3. powhounddd
    wrote on October 6th, 2010 at 1:50 pm  

    I think the Canada is the best, eh!

    tHANKS FOR THE great ballsy forecast. January is lookin good for a trip West…

  4. Sam
    wrote on October 6th, 2010 at 1:53 pm  
    • Greg
      wrote on October 6th, 2010 at 6:16 pm  

      I think Lionel forgot to cover one of the key teleconnections: the so-called VOYC-number (prouncounced “Voice”). Or in lay terms “Vermonters on your Couch”… I think it’s highest sometime in mid January ;)

  5. Harvey44
    wrote on October 6th, 2010 at 3:06 pm  

    Homer Simpson Voice (and drool): “Mmmm …. Miller B….”

    Way to man up Lionel. I knew there was a reason I’ve retweeted everything you’ve ever put out. You are stud. It all sounds pretty plausible to me. Actually this might be a good forecast for our new pet project – Big Tupper. When do we get the next big picture kinda look from Hutzville?

  6. Could Be Buggy
    wrote on October 6th, 2010 at 8:12 pm  

    Lots of PNW buzz this year. Sam — any extra crash space up there??

  7. icelanticskier
    wrote on October 6th, 2010 at 9:03 pm  

    thanx lionel! music to my ears! vermonters stay on the couch while i’m skiing consolidated corn/wind buff on southerly aspects up high for the month of january (not so rare), and pummeldumping storms in feb like last year.

    gonna be a good year here in the right spots. the wind will work wonders up high to send that dust… cover the crust…….making deep pow skiing….a must…….while the resorts are a bust. per usual. :)

    bring it!


    • natron
      wrote on October 7th, 2010 at 9:28 am  

      the wind will work wonders up high to send that dust… cover the crust…….making deep pow skiing….a must…….while the resorts are a bust.

      nice 1 rog!

      hoping LH is right about an octo. storm and good dec. snow..

    • Greg
      wrote on October 7th, 2010 at 1:22 pm  

      wow that was good dude!

  8. Brice
    wrote on October 7th, 2010 at 12:01 am  

    So December VT backcountry expeditions should be ok? Late Jan/early Feb Tahoe should be epic? Sweet

    • Lionel Hutz
      wrote on October 7th, 2010 at 9:39 am  

      I don’t love Tahoe this season.

  9. PNW_2_Boston
    wrote on October 7th, 2010 at 11:59 am  

    Amazing outlook for a Whistler skier newly moved to New England.
    Revelstoke for New Years it is… and with any luck there’ll be some touring to be had *somewhere* out east during the rest o’ the winter.

  10. Mike
    wrote on October 7th, 2010 at 1:33 pm  

    I know Steamboat on the western edge of the Continental Divide is licking their chops over La Nina……

    • Lionel Hutz
      wrote on October 8th, 2010 at 8:09 am  

      Yea so is Jackson Hole…not sure if either place has enough to crow about. I’d go cold over insanely snowy for both regions. But I’m sure they will find a way to back up their excitement.

  11. Lionel Hutz
    wrote on October 8th, 2010 at 8:04 am  

    Got the following question: During the past few years, I have noticed a lot of long term projections being done using analogs. Is there any statistics or data backing up the validity of using analogs? Do they actually pan out and what is the +/- when they are off?

    Here’s my answer:

    Using analogs is simply a way to guess what the wx will do in the future based on what it did in the past under conditions similar to what we are experiencing and what is forecasted to develop. It is good for general trends but is far from rock solid. YOu have to understand your forecast areas so as to weed out the best years and know how the overall trends affect your micro climate. Last year all the analog data pointed to an above average snow year along the I-95 corridor. And they were right- however no analog could predict 100 inches from DC to PHL. You had to read the water temp, the prevailing AO pattern, the prevailing NAO pattern to be able to say it’s going to be a blockbuster year in the I-95 corridor. So while I use analogs to get a sense of what’s trends we might see and then use my experiences to tweak that for the forecast area.

    Now- as to your question on statistics…CPC has tons of prognostication validation scores on their website. Personally hard numbers like that and wx don’t really make sense to me. BUt if you want to sort through them and understand their accuracy of forecast which uses analog years then go ahead. As for the +/- I’d say the answer lies in what you use to measure the +/- …are we talking temp, are we talking snow depth, are we talking total snow? How about total precip for a season? Numbers can be fudged anyway…I rather rely on “feel” to judge the long term forecast. Did we get the prevailing patterns right. Outside of 24-72 hours before a storm, any other measurement is crap.

  12. billski
    wrote on October 9th, 2010 at 12:10 am  

    Clearly ULLR is being ignored in all of this and he is not happy.

    I have noticed a marked decline in the the number of virgins sacrificed to the almighty god. In more recent years, a pyre made of skis and board is also acceptable sacrifice.

    So while I appreciate your pragmatic approach Lionel, we indeed may need to resort to pagan ritual this season.

  13. Butch Chamberlain
    wrote on October 11th, 2010 at 7:56 am  

    Well Lionell, you have, (per usual) given us some hope. At least for most of the clan. I believe however, that earning turns this year will be a huge factor. May have to go where no one has gone before to find the goodies. I also agree that ULLR is probably going to throw a temper tantrum, might just P on the NE. Making it hard for even the sharpist edge to hold. As for going high to get the pow one must do what one must do. That is part of earning turns. Again, Lionell your insight and pure calculating instincts have given us all hope for the upcoming season. May it be early or later, we shall over come. Let us all be one with ULLR. Be kind and praise him. For it is he that holds the destiny. All praise ULLR! KEEP YOUR SCIENTIFIC FINGERS CROSSED.

  14. jumpin jimmy
    wrote on October 11th, 2010 at 8:49 am  

    yet another reason why FIS rocks. Thanks guys

    • bushman
      wrote on October 11th, 2010 at 10:02 am  

      hiked around top of Jay Peak Sat and Sun mornings. Ice formed on puddles left over from Friday’s rain and along rocks–made the Long Trail a little slippery if you got careless/lazy. Tesps about 30F but wind brought to 20’s before noon. Lots of people. Leaves are gone from the mid-point up. Friday’s storm cleared out the haze so could St. Lawrence, Stowe, C Hump, beautiful with the sun despite the cold…Driving south on 91 looking east thought i saw a white peak way up in NH? Anybody over? Did VT’s rain leave some flutter on MW? Won’t be long

    • Greg
      wrote on October 12th, 2010 at 8:33 pm  

      a.) thanks jumpin_jimmy!!

      b.) bushman we were up on jay late afternoon on saturday, and the ice was still holding strong! it is very very close now.

  15. Scott B
    wrote on October 12th, 2010 at 8:22 pm  

    AJ- I’ve got a feeling you nailed this. Ever since La Nina showed up I’ve been going with an active pattern for this upcoming winter. It could get messy at times. I think we will see a decent amount of St Lawrence Valley trackers, or systems just south of there cutting through upstate NY and New England. Unlike last year, this will not be a coastal winter. This has interior (sometimes far interior) and northern New England/southern Canada written all over it. There will be a battle ground between warmth under the southeast ridge and over the Atlantic, and arctic cold lurking in Canada. That baroclinic zone will excite cyclogenesis over the Ohio Valley and redevelopment near the New England coast with storms tracking significantly further north than last year. Potential is there for some large ice storms too as the surface arctic cold in the north undercuts warmer air aloft in a general southwest flow pattern.

    My concerns include Lakes Cutters, like you mentioned, but more importantly, primary lows hanging on too long in Miller B scenarios. The models will not be good this winter in resolving the transfer of energy from primary lows (tracking into the Lakes or upstate NY) to the secondary lows near the New England coast… the models will want the secondary to take over too soon so watch for that. In La Nina Miller B scenarios, the primary low will stay in control longer than the weather models show… it is a documented bias. This could lead us to become dryslotted or see more mixed precipitation than forecast (I bet there are a lot of storms where the mixing line is much further north than forecast concensus).

    Overall though, we will not be missed to the south here in central/northern New England like last year. Latitude will play a huge role this winter and look for a sharp snowfall gradient somewhere in the Northeast.

    Great forecast, Lionel, and I agree completely with your prognosis.

    • Lionel Hutz
      wrote on October 18th, 2010 at 4:07 pm  

      Scott- Great to hear from you…

      As to your point re. Canada snowfall. Correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t 2007-2008 or 2008-2009 see record snowfall in Quebec and its mountains?

      I like that point.

      As for the Miller B change over- totally with you on the timing biases of the computer models. What say you that the Euro will out perform the other models in this respect. It did so in the analog winters but the GFS has been revamped since then and seems to do better of late. Was actually pretty good with the October Nor’Easter.

  16. karl
    wrote on October 22nd, 2010 at 7:21 pm  

    hey lionel,
    i know it is not the end of october yet, but once the month ends, will you be doing a bit of coverage on the siberian snow fields and the impact the snow level will have on the tempatures in the northeast?

  17. yahoo search
    wrote on April 22nd, 2014 at 1:19 pm  

    Hey there! I’m at work browsing your blog from my new iphone 3gs!

    Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to all your posts!
    Carry on the excellent work!

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