Snow Conditions Report: Dec. 20, 2018

Snow Conditions

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This past week, West Michigan has felt the longest streak of above average temperatures since September. Wednesday, it hit 50 in Holland and Muskegon, leading to the warmest day in nearly a month (Nov. 23).

Obviously this does not bode well for snow enthusiasts, especially snowmobilers and cross-country skiers. News isn’t as dire for downhill skiiers and snowboarders.
Snowfall this month has been anemic. Last year, there was 68 percent snow cover across Michigan with an average depth of 4.2.inches. This year, it’s only 45 percent with a scant 1.5 inches of snow depth. 
Considering how mild it’s been, I’m surprised we have any snow in the state. Grand Rapids is on a record pace of falling within the top five least snowy Decembers, with ten days remaining. As of Dec. 20, Grand Rapids ranks number two.
Outside of the man-made snow on area ski slopes, there really isn’t any snow that’s usable across Lower Michigan. Rain across the Eastern U.P. on Thursday didn’t helping the situation, either. Once again, there will be very little accumulating snow in the forecast this weekend. Snowfall will remain rather elusive across Lower Michigan through the end of the month. Pur usual, the Lake Superior snowbelt and the Central and Western U.P. will benefit the most.
I am concerned about a potential warm rain event around December 27th as models are agreeing that Michigan will be on the east side of a strong low pressure system.
I’m hoping after that we will gradually slip into a more consistent colder pattern. The latest 8- to 14-day temperature outlook still has the Great Lakes warmer than average through Jan. 2.
There are signs that arctic air is building, though. I’ve never shown this before, but what is called a “strat warm event” is taking shape over the northern hemisphere. This can be a precursor to a major Arctic outbreak eventually across the United States. This happened in the very cold January and February of 2014.
Even though it is occurring now, it takes a while before it arrives across the United States. The current thinking is sometime mid-January.

So far this season has been dismal for snowmobilers, especially in Lower Michigan. A couple of friends of mine road Trail 8 and H58 in the Munising area on Dec. 14 and 15 and said most of the trails were actually quite good. The exception was trail 419 out of the town of Christmas. I wouldn’t venture into the southern U.P., as the snow is best near the Lake Superior shoreline. Here’s a picture of last weekend. (Photo: Todd Pierantoni)
Trails are still ridable near Munising, but not as good as last weekend with light rain falling over them. Latest check of the base ranges from 0 to 6 inches with building snirt in the corners. No fun getting in-out of parking lots and gas stations with exposed pavement.

I checked reports in St. Ignace where many riders will begin their journey, but snow conditions are not yet good enough, so you need to trailer further north. Even Paradise is reporting that trails are not in very good shape.

Here’s a compilation of the snow depths across the U.P. as of Dec. 20 (nothing worth reporting in Lower Michigan): Manistique 1″, Detour Village 4″, Iron Mountain 5″, Soo 6″, Munising and Ironwood 8″, Marquette and Paradise 10″, Grand Marais and Houghton 12″, Calumet 17″ and Delaware in the northern tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula is reporting 18″.

The news isn’t so dire for snowboarders and and skiers, thanks to man-made snow. The last thing ski resorts want to see is poor skiing in and around Christmas. The weather will not be perfect, but thanks to man-made snow, bases have been building up.

All ski resorts are open. Cannonsburg will be closed Thursday Dece​​​​. 20, but will open at 4 p.m. Friday. Shanty Creek-Schuss Mountain will open the red chair lift this weekend.

If you plan on skiing this weekend, temperatures will be cold, but not bitterly so. They’ll also be cold enough to make snow.
The high temperatures on Sunday will be similar.
If you plan on skiing/snowboarding during the week of Christmas, it appears warmer temperatures will arrive around Dec. 27.
Let me finish by saying we only had an inch of snow in December 2014 (the least-snowiest December) and the remainder of the winter turned colder and snowy. Temperatures ended up 3.2 degrees below average in January 2015 and an incredible 13.5 degrees below average in February 2015 (the coldest February on record).

Once the switch is flipped, I think we will settle into the cold for a while. It’s just a matter of when that switch will flip. Stay tuned and think snow!


The Snow Conditions Report is sponsored by Jacobson Heating & Cooling and Schuss Mountain at Shanty Creek Resort.

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