Where’s the snow? Rocky Mountain winter starts with a whimper

by Thomas Peipert and Brittany Peterson

Associated press

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Drew Darnell is skateboarding at the Cheesman Park Pavilion on Wednesday, December 1, 2021 in Denver. (Source: Associated press)

Denver’s winter started with a whimper, and the parched mountains to the west are not faring much better.

Mile High City has already broken its 87-year record for the last measurable snowfall, set on November 21, 1934, and it’s just over a week off the 1887 record of 235 consecutive days without snow.

The storyline takes place across much of the Rocky Mountains, as far north as Montana and the western United States, which is experiencing a mega-drought whose studies are linked to man-made climate change. This is only the second time since 1976 that Salt Lake City has been snowless until November, and in the midst of unusually warm Montana weather, a late-season wildfire fueled by high winds has ravaged a small town farm in central Montana this week.

Hot, dry weather has drawn crowds to Denver restaurant and bar patios, and the city’s parks and trails are teeming with people basking in the sun in shorts, short sleeves, and sometimes flip flops.

As pleasant as the weather is, climatologists and meteorologists warn that a prolonged drought could threaten the region’s water supply and agricultural industry. It could also hurt tourism, which relies heavily on skiers, snowboarders, rafters and fishermen.

“With each passing day, we don’t see any precipitation appearing and we see this year-to-year persistence of drought conditions, it only adds to a deficit. And we continue to add to that deficit year after year. , especially in the Colorado River basin, ”said Keith Musselman, hydrologist at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Derek Greenough moved to Denver a few months ago and immediately bought a snowboard in hopes of hitting the slopes soon. But on Wednesday, he was enjoying the warm weather in a city park.

“I’m from central New York so I expected it to be a bit like there where they have about 5 feet of snow right now,” said Greenough, 27, who was wearing a tank top. and exercise shorts. “Today I thought the first day of December would snow, at least something, but here we are. It’s a beautiful day.… I don’t think I’ll be snowboarding anytime soon.”

Denver’s peak reached 73 degrees Fahrenheit (23 degrees Celsius) on Wednesday, tying the record set in 1973. The National Weather Service predicts similar conditions for the weekend with only a low chance of snow early next week .

Frank Cooper, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Boulder, Colorado, said a weather model of La Nina was pushing storm tracks further north into the Pacific Northwest and Canada, allowing peaks in the region to Denver to reach the 70s.

“Basically we haven’t had any really capable system going into the area to cool us off,” he said, noting that the maximum average in Denver at this time of year is 45 degrees Fahrenheit ( 7 degrees Celsius).

Musselman likens the mountain snowpack to a natural reservoir that holds moisture in the winter months and releases it in the spring and summer when the demand for trees, plants, animals, and humans is greatest.

“This natural reservoir is affected by climate change, and warming is reducing the amount of snow that occurs in the mountains,” he said.

Lack of snow in northern Utah is a rarity, but the record for the last snowfall – set twice on Christmas Day in 1939 and 1943 – is expected to stick with the expected snowfall towards the end of next week, National Weather Service meteorologist David Church said.

The mountains near Salt Lake City which are home to several ski resorts got off to a good start to the season when a wet October that brought rain in the valley made snow in the mountains, but it caused snow. slowed down in November. Several stations, including Deer Valley in Park City and Powder Mountain and Snowbasin near Ogden, have delayed their opening due to weather.

With most of Utah stuck in extreme drought, a wet winter is more important than just making sure skiers have good trails.

“We need a good winter for the snowpack here so hopefully we can get over it as we head into December and January,” Church said.

The lack of snow also led to a slight inversion in the Salt Lake City area, a phenomenon in Utah’s urban corridor caused by weather and geography as cold, stagnant air settles in the mountain basins. bowl-shaped, trapping automotive and other emissions and creating a cloudy brown haze. Storms shatter these reversals.

In western Wyoming, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort opened on Thanksgiving Day, using artificial snow on a handful of low-lying trails and in an area for kids and other inexperienced skiers.

Resort spokesman Eric Seymour said: “We are not sounding the alarm yet”, and he is crossing his fingers that the snow forecast for this weekend will allow the high mountain to s ‘to open.

This is the attitude of most ski resorts in the Rockies, who recognize that the season has only just begun and that all hope is not lost. Even so, a popular Colorado ski resort leaves nothing to be desired.

With such a dearth of open ski terrain at resorts across the state, Breckenridge is set to host an annual downtown festival to honor Ullr, the Norse god of snow and patron saint of skiers.

Lauren Swanson, spokesperson for the Breckenridge Tourism Board, described the four-day festival starting December 9 as “a city-wide snow dance,” a parade and party to thank Ullr for heavy snow and ask him to bring more.

“We hope our snow dances and all our celebrations inspire Ullr to bless us with a big storm soon. That is what it is about. If the snow is not there, we will bring it with our energy, ”she said. “I believe in it. I think it works.”

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Associated Press editors Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City and Mead Gruver in Cheyenne, Wyoming, contributed to this report.

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