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Snoqualmie Pass ski resort holds "Pray for Snow" party amid grim snowpack forecast

Just 9" of snow at Snoqualmie Pass on Dec. 6. (KOMO Photo)

HYAK, Wash. -- The winter season of 2018 has not exactly gotten off to a roaring start for skiers and snowboarders, and the news isn't much better going forward.

As of Wednesday, snowpack was running around 1/3 of normal across the Cascades as weeks of sunshine have dominated much of October and November -- and even into the start of December.

Snoqualmie Pass has reported just 18 inches of total snow this season so far -- 12 of it came over Thanksgiving weekend. There is just a 9-inch base right now. To compare, the pass had 96 inches at this time last year with a 32-inch base. We're even behind the terrible snowpack winter of 2014-15 (25" on Dec. 6; 104" total for the season).

Beyond ski season, the snowpack can have serious consequences. Seventy-80 percent of our region’s surface water supply comes from mountain snowpack.

Scott Pattee is a water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. He said this is one of the worst starts to a season he’s seen in his 25 years on the job.

Pattee said a low snowpack could lead to a more intense wildfire season next summer. Also, the water supply is critical to several industries, including fisheries, agriculture and power companies.

“It effects virtually everyone,” Pattee said. “Whether it’s commodity prices, whether it’s power prices, municipal water supplies and prices.”

But Pattee points out, it’s very early in the season, so people should not be alarmed quite yet.

“You could flip a coin right now on which way it’s going to go,” he said.

Stevens Pass has had 44 inches of total snow -- a far cry from the 111 inches it had a year ago today.

The folks at Snoqualmie Summit, still staring at idle ski lifts, is pulling out the stops with some pleas to Mother Nature, holding a "Pray for Snow" party on Friday at Compass Outdoor Adventures in North Bend. They'll also aim to "build stoke with some preseason skiing and snowboarding videos and door prizes."

But skiers and snowboarders will need all the help they can get, because the news going forward isn't that great either. The folks at the Washington State Climatology Office have given one little nugget of hope, but with a big caveat:

"(A low snowpack) isn’t terribly unusual for this time of year, and the majority of the snow season is still ahead," state climatologists wrote in their monthly newsletter. "On the other hand, on the heels on a warmer and drier than usual summer, there are concerns for the mountain snowpack, particularly with El Niño developing."

Ahh, yes, El Niño. The arch nemesis of skiers and ski resort operators across the North. Technically, we are still on the cusp --- but haven't officially hit El Niño conditions just yet. But all signs say we'll get there quickly. And El Niño winters are typically marked by warmer and drier than normal winters.

To make matters worse, there is another form of "The Blob" back in the Gulf of Alaska. It was a strong El Niño combined with a very warm Blob that gave us the warmest winter of all time in 2014-15 and pretty much stole all the snow from Snoqualmie. This El Niño and "blob" aren't quite as strong but still make for strong headwinds in getting a healthy snowpack.

The "blob" (or more officially "marine heat wave") is caused when persistent large area of high pressure sits over the Northern Pacific Waters, keeping storm activity away. Those storms are counted on to churn up cooler water from sun-starved deeper depths and bring it to the surface -- sort of the opposite effect of when you put cream in your coffee. But the lack of storms allows sun-warmed surface temperatures to rise, and that provides a bit of an electric blanket (not literally, good grief that would be an explosive sight), warming the surrounding air.

Washington State Climatologist Nick Bond predicts while this "blob" is currently just a shade cooler than the big one of 2015, the warm anomaly doesn't extend quite as deep, and thus won't be quite as warm or intense as the one we saw in 2014-2016, but could still have a warming effect on our local winter. November was already a warm month across much of Western Washington with the average high 3.2 degrees above normal in Seattle.

And forecasters with the NOAA's National Climate Prediction Center are on board with the mild winter, giving 60 percent or more confidence December through February will end up warmer than normal across Western Washington:

There is some good news in the short term as forecasts do show a decent mountain snowstorm or two next week, but add up all the overall trends, and skiers should perhaps hope of a large crowd at the pray for snow party Friday night. Every little bit helps.

Speaking of which, I think this does call for dusting off our 2014-2015 lack-of-snow tradition of Emergency Kitten Therapy:


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