Where's the Snow?

by Mark Lahtinen
December 24, 2023

If you’re singing, “I’m dreaming of a w____ Christmas…” the w must equal wet this year because “…we’re skiing in the rain, we’re skiing in the rain…” Sorry Bing and Gene. We’re getting hit by the Snow Grinch. “You’re a rotter Mr. Grinch.”

Brown Christmas Days (less than 1 inch of snow on the ground) happen about 25% of the years so they are not that uncommon. Christmas Day has 2 inches of snow on the ground 58 percent of the years on record (123 years). Two inches of snow on the ground is what I use as a ski day.

The natural snow ski season for brown Christmas winters average 48 ski days for the 36 winters that it has happened since 1899-1900. The range is from 10 ski days in 1956-57 to 105 in 1977-78 which is the only brown Christmas winter with over 100 ski days.

To contrast, brown Christmas winters with 6 inches plus on the ground (max is 20 inches in 1983-84) on Christmas average 98 ski days (range from 34 in 1920-21 to 132 in 1950-51). The 21 winters since 1949-50 average 107 ski days while the 10 before that average 77 ski days. There has been a lot more snow since 1949-50.

It’s a good thing we have the manmade snow this year. The manmade snow adds 1 month to 5 weeks of ski days to the average natural snow ski season of about 70 days. Basically, every ski season now is a 100 day ski season.

As Christmas approaches we have been very dry snow-wise – 1.3 inches so far in December which usually has about 10 inches of snow. The 20 Decembers with the lowest amount of snow range from a trace in 1913-1914 (23 ski day season) and 1943-44 (16 ski day season) to 3.1 inches in 1998-99 (55 ski days). The lowest 20 December snowfalls average 1.8 inches of snow and 35 ski days…one-half of the normal 70 day natural snow ski season.

On the other end of the spectrum the 20 snowiest Decembers average 99 ski day seasons ranging from 16.5 inches in 1951-52 (115 ski days) to 33.6 inches in 2010-11 (103 ski days – only 13 years ago).

We have also been very warm with December currently running 9.4 F above average at 32.8 F and headed for the warmest December on record.

The warmest Decembers (not including the current one) run from 30.5 F (1913-14 – 23 ski days) to 25.4 F (2003-04 – 64 ski days). The average temp for the warmest Decembers is 27.7 F. The average natural snow ski days for the 20 warmest Decembers is 51 or about 3 weeks shorter than average.

The coldest 20 Decembers average 10.9 F and 83 ski days. The range is from 13.6 F in 1976-77 (70 ski days) to 3.7 F in 1983-84 (112 ski days not counting the brrrr… too cold to ski ones).

I’m sure we’ll eventually get some snow and colder weather. I’d just settle for some cold so that the mushy uphills firm up. I don’t think it is so, but I hope we haven’t hit a tipping point in the climate.

About the author...

Mark Lahtinen has been skiing since the late ‘60s woodies, 3-pins bindings, bamboo poles, and skied in tracks at Wirth at best. Starting about 15 years ago, Mark thought he could figure out winter snows -- too unpredictable, but he tries. Mark has some big spreadsheets and once in awhile can find some interesting data. Mark says: "I’m not a weatherman nor a climatologist nor do I play one on TV."