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Ski Season Outlook: Not So Good, Says Cliff Mass

Ted S. Warrena
AP Photo
Ryan MacDonald, right, and Shane Anderson, left, both of Tacoma,Wash., rest with their snowboards after walking up a run, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2010, at The Summit at Snoqualmie ski area.

KPLU weather expert Cliff Mass says his email inbox has been full of questions about when the snow will return to western Washington, especially in the mountains and ski areas.

“In fact, things are not great right now,” Mass said. And extended forecasts indicate it’s unlikely to improve much this year.

In the Cascades, snowpack at most locations is 30 to 40 percent below normal levels. And in the Olympics, it’s as low as 15 to 20 percent of normal.

“The big problem is we’ve had these ridges over the region — high-pressure areas. They’ve been very persistent and then when it did rain, we got a lot of atmospheric rivers that tap warm, subtropical moisture,” Mass said.

The ridges have caused a continuing pattern of rising freezing levels and lots of rain in the mountains, which has prevented the formation of a substantial snowpack.

“We’re way below normal,” Mass said.

Season Outlook: Likely More Of The Same

“Skiing is open some places, at least on a marginal basis. I’ll get into trouble if I don’t mention that,” Mass said.  

Thursday night brought some snow to the mountains, and Snoqualmie Pass got 8 inches.

But Mass says Saturday will bring rain to the mountains.

“And looking at the extended forecast, it really looks like we’re going to have warm and dry [weather] as the tenor of the rest of the winter,” Mass said.

Mass says the forecasting skill drops off substantially after a few weeks, but there are many computer models that calculate the extended outlook in the U.S. and in other countries.

“And these models are extremely consistent. We are expecting warmer- and drier-than-normal conditions for the rest of the winter,” Mass said.

He expects the pattern of ridges of high pressure to continue, with just sporadic snow and precipitation for the next few months.

“And the snowpack may end up the winter maybe 50 to 60 percent of normal,” Mass said.

That’s enough to avert a major drought, Mass says, but not great for people who gambled on season passes for regional ski areas this year.

“Again, there’s uncertainties here, but that’s what it looks like now,” Mass said. 


The weekly KPLU feature "Weather with Cliff Mass" airs every Friday at 9 a.m. immediately following BirdNote, and twice on Friday afternoons during All Things Considered. The feature is hosted by KPLU Environment Reporter Bellamy Pailthorp. Cliff Mass is a University of Washington Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, a renowned Seattle weather prognosticator, and a popular weather blogger. You can also subscribe to a podcast of “Weather with Cliff Mass” shows.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to