We asked four forecasters for predictions on what will be the best weekend of the winter, the coldest day, the day the snow stake at the top of Mt. Mansfield hits 50 inches and more. Here, for posterity, are their predictions. First, meet our contestants:
SCOTT BRAATEN is Stowe’s snow guru. Growing up, he wanted to know what the snow conditions would be like, and he wouldn’t take anyone else’s word for it. So Braaten read textbooks given to him by his uncle, a professor in atmospheric science at the University of Kansas, and taught himself how to forecast. The passion led to a job as a forecaster at Hearst-Argyle Television before Braaten landed at Stowe. Now, he keeps an eye on the storm systems that affect Stowe specifically, giving the resort team a hyper-local perspective. With his intel, the team makes decisions about snowmaking, grooming and opening certain lifts and trails. Braaten is also Stowe’s social media supervisor and the resort photographer.
JOSH FOX grew up in New York and learned to ski in Vermont. He received his meteorology degree from Penn State University in 1998, then spent some time in the private sector as an operational forecaster. He entered the energy industry in 2001 and continues to work there in a variety of capacities. Fox has been writing the Single Chair Weather Blog, based out of Mad River Glen, since 2006.
TIM KELLEY has been forecasting with New England Cable News since January of 1992 and says New England weather is in his blood. A Cape Cod native, he’s been studying weather since he was a student at Lyndon State College in Vermont. Kelley started at NECN after working at WMUR-TV in New Hampshire, then moved to WLNE-TV to forecast and do environmental reporting in Providence. Kelley keeps a daily weather journal and says he can tell you what the weather was like on any given day since 1992. He’s a contributor to Ski the East and Jay Peak’s forecasting team. When Kelley’s not predicting the biggest new storm, he can be caught surfing, skiing or gardening.
ERIC KELSEY is the director of research at the Mount Washington Observatory in New Hampshire and a research assistant professor at Plymouth State University. Kelsey received his master’s degree at SUNY, Albany, and his PhD from the University of New Hampshire. There, he studied ice cores from the Yukon and created a novel procedure for identifying seasonal atmospheric circulation patterns. Now, he’s trying to understand why high peaks in the Northeast aren’t warming as fast as lower elevations. He thinks the pattern might have something to do with the atmospheric boundary layer, which can hover over mountains, changing how sunlight and wind affect the surroundings. Though it’s too soon to tell if Kelsey’s hypothesis holds up, snow lovers can keep their fingers crossed that Vermont’s highest elevations might be less affected by warming temperatures.
1. What’s your call for opening days?
Braaten: October 31, at Killington. Opening day should feature the classic northern Vermont experience of crisp temperatures, a stiff breeze, and occasional upslope snow showers and squalls along the spine of the Greens.
Fox: Thanksgiving weekend at Stowe. It will be a cold and blustery one!
Kelley: Killington, in late October. Everywhere else: November 3. There will be windy, cold upslope snow. There’s plenty of cold in Canada, and signs say we get an early, snowy autumn.
Kelsey: November 19. Sadly, a warm fall might hamper snowmaking efforts for an earlier opening, but skiing by Thanksgiving is always a good thing.
2. When will Vermont have its biggest dump of the year? And how many inches of snow?
Braaten: January 9 with 18-24 inches of fresh powder overnight. That’s my birthday and it’s as good a time as any for the biggest powder dump of the season! In all honesty, if we do end up in a La Nina, December and January should be fun.
Fox: March 2 with 26 inches. We’ve been sleeping through March the last two seasons, but great things happen in March so never give up and never underestimate what March can do for you.
Kelley: January 22 with 23 inches at Sunday River and 22 inches at Mt. Snow. During the first half of January, the ocean is still a little warmer, and the air is at its coldest. The weather favors Nor’easters, and Nor’easters favor Maine to southern VT.
Kelsey: January 15 with 28 inches. Often, our biggest storms are in February or March, but in a warming climate our odds for big storms in January might increase. I’m going to hang my hat on that —and some wishful forecasting.
3. Best powder weekend?
Braaten: Martin Luther King weekend. We are due for a big January.
Fox: March 4 and 5, thanks to some additional powder from our March 2 storm.
Kelley: February 14, Northern Vermont. In mid-February, the water and air are very cold. That weather favors upslope snow on the backside of storms and lake effect snow. Lake Ontario and Lake Champlain may still have open water to fuel the upslope snow.
Kelsey: The weekend after January 15. With 28 inches of fresh powder, the conditions will be spectacular. But I’d enjoy the fresh pow on January 16—why wait until the weekend?
4. Area with the most snowfall?
Braaten: The northern Greens, of course. From south to north you have Sugarbush, Mad River Glen, Bolton, Stowe, Smuggs and Jay Peak…they make up the ‘powder league’ of Vermont.
Fox: Northern Vermont – The elimination of El Nino should allow northern Vermont to have the best chance for success.
Kelley: Mt. Ellen northward: Northern Vermont almost always gets the most snow in New England. Two and three years ago were an anomaly, but we should have more of a ‘normal’ winter this year. El Nino is over. La Nina is not strong, and it’s snowing all over the globe at our latitude already this summer.
Kelsey: Mount Mansfield. It is the tallest, which means more orographic lift to produce more snow. Plus, Mansfield often receives a lot of lake-effect moisture. It is a great place to be!
5. Day we measure 50 inches at the Mt. Mansfield stake?
Braaten: December 25. Last winter we had 0” at the Mt. Mansfield stake on Christmas Day (the only time in 60 years that has happened) and this winter we will hit the 50 inches benchmark on that same day. For those that don’t know, 50 inches at the Mansfield stake is the benchmark for when the off-piste lines start to fill in and really become skiable. La Nina seasons are often good early in the season.
Fox: December 15. A gut feeling tells me Vermont should enjoy a much better start to this season, and that should allow the 50 inch threshold at the stake to get crossed very early.
Kelley: January 24. Trust me – I’m old.
Kelsey: February 11. With a few more solid snowstorms after the January 15th blockbuster snowstorm, the stake will become buried past 50 inches.
Update: As of Dec. 21, here’s what the Mount Mansfield stake is looking like. Click the image compare this year to years past.
6. Coldest day?
Braaten: February 14th. It’ll be a good day to get cozy with your valentine.
Fox: January 21. Might as well put my chips where climatology says I should.
Kelley: February 15, because the deepest powder is always followed by the most brutal chill. Ullr’s sense of humor!
Kelsey: February 14. With all that fresh snow on the ground, the first high pressure that settles overhead will allow for excellent radiational cooling and temperatures to plummet near -30F in some valleys. But if you don’t like those temperatures, try higher elevations where it’ll be much warmer, a balmy -10F or so.
7. Best time to go to Florida?
Braaten: Anytime after Cinco de Mayo. If you travel to Florida during the winter, you are guaranteeing that it will snow while you are gone. In that case, the skiers and riders of Vermont thank you for your sacrifice.
Fox: December. It’s always December. December is such a dark time in Vermont both figuratively and literally given the angle of the sun. Though I feel this coming December will be better than the last one, the month is typically hit-and-miss, including periods of rain and mild weather.
Kelley: December. 24-January 1. Because it’s cold, then rainy, then cold and too crowded in New England at that time.
Kelsey: Why would anyone want to go to Florida in the winter?