How deep is the snow?
March 22, 2011
Last October, in the middle of an unseasonably warm spell, Park Record columnist Tom Clyde delved into local folklore in an effort to predict the upcoming winter weather.
"An elderly neighbor once told me that the hornets could forecast the winter, Clyde wrote in his column. "If they built their nests low to the ground, it would be a light winter with little snow. If they were at the tops of the trees, there would be a lot of snow."
The only hornet nest Clyde could find was way up in the top of a tree. So, using that gauge, he speculated that northern Utah might be in for some serious precipitation.
Score one for the hornet-nest theory.
December snowfall in northern Utah was more than twice the average. February was another banner month. By the beginning of March, Clyde was moaning that he was running out of places to put the snow. Weather stations in the Uinta Mountains east of Park City were measuring snow depths at 130 to 140 percent of normal. All three Park City-area ski resorts were reporting base depths of more than 100 inches.
So is this one for the record books?
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Brian McInerney, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service (NWS), which measures the water content of snow at a station next to the Thaynes Lift at Park City Mountain Resort (PCMR), says this year is on track to be the second best since the station was established in 1988. Through March 21, 2011, there were about 31 inches of water in the snow at the Thaynes station. On this date in the record year, 2004-05, the snow held about 35 inches of water.
On Tuesday, Park City Mountain Resort was reporting a season total of 354 inches of snow and a base of 123 inches at its Jupiter station, at an altitude of about 10,000 feet. By comparison, in March 2005, PCMR measured a base depth of 156 inches, according to spokesperson Meisha Lawson. She said the resort’s all-time high for snowfall in a season came in 1992-93, when it received 512 inches.
Emily Summers, communications coordinator at Deer Valley Resort, said this is the best winter for snowfall at the resort since 2007-08. "At this time that year we had a larger base depth," she said. "That was our all-time record season for snowfall." (Deer Valley opened in 1981.)
On Tuesday, Deer Valley had a 109-inch base at its station at about 8,800 feet on the Ontario ski run on Flagstaff Mountain on Tuesday. The resort does not release year-to-date snowfall totals.
Meanwhile, Canyons was reporting 108 inches at its summit stake Tuesday, which is in the 9990 area, and 88 inches at its mid-mountain stake at about 8,800 feet off the Kokopelli run. Nothing special, according to Caitlin Martz, Canyons communications coordinator.
"This season’s snow totals are pretty normal," Martz said in an email Monday. "For example, (in) March of 06 we averaged about 91 inches at mid-mountain. March of 09 we averaged 63 inches. Nothing out of the ordinary for this year, maybe slightly above average as we still have more time for snow to fall in March."
After checking with the ski patrol, Martz reported that the resort measured its all-time record snowfall of 417 inches in 2005-2006. On Tuesday, the resort website listed its year-to-date total as 315 inches.
"Apparently there was more snow in 82-83 (when Canyons was known as ParkWest), but there was a shorter season then and no one to measure from November to April, so we don’t have a number."
Ah, yes. The winter of 1982-83. Now that was a banner year, Tom Clyde, who was then the Park City attorney, might tell you. According to a newspaper story, on May 16, 1983, two weeks after the Park City Ski Area (now Park City Mountain Resort) had closed its lifts, there was still enough snow that skiers could have gone all the way to the base of the resort. But only three weeks later, so much of that snow had melted that Salt Lake City had turned some of its streets, including State Street, into makeshift canals.
But was it really a banner year?
NWS hydrologist McInerney said that snowfall in the winter of 1982-1983 was actually close to normal. What was unusual, he says, is the way the weather stayed cold and wet until late May, holding the snow in place. When the weather finally warmed up, it did so in a hurry, and the snow melted in torrents.
"It depends how it comes off, McInerny said. "In ’84 we had bigger snow but it came off in an orderly fashion."
So, if you’re looking for a consensus, it seems to be that we’ve had better years in the recent past, but no one year stands out. Peoples’ memories, it seems, tend to coalesce around individual events related to their own experiences.
"In November of 2001, we got 73 inches in one storm and went from closed to 100 percent open in one storm," Canyons’ Martz recounted. "It was one of the biggest snow events in history at this resort."