Thursday, May 6, 2010

Weather speculation: snow in May?

There are only two months I've not skied in (I think I skied in July in Australia; I can't really remember): May and September. I knocked off October last year. And, perhaps, May will soon be in the books.

Why? Because it might snow in May. Yes. May! Not a few flakes in May (that's happened before) but real, actual accumulating snow falling south of Duluth. The weather models have been hinting at this for a few days now, but I wasn't getting excited. Now? I'm getting excited.

There are quite a few variables which need to come together for May skiing. First, you need enough snow. With the ground quite warm, you need several inches to freeze up as a slushy layer on the ground and provide a base. Second, you really would like someone to roll or groom it. It counts if it's not, but it's less fun. If you can't find grooming, you would very much like the temperatures to fall below freezing for an evening and freeze up the crust, as crust skiing on untrod trails can be fantastic. You'd prefer the snow to fall at night when the solar radiation of the sun doesn't warm the ground so it won't stick. Finally, you need just the right combination and timing so that the snow doesn't disappear before you have a chance to ski.

With all that said, what can be expected? Well, first we have to pinpoint the jackpot for the snow. The latest models from Earl Barker's great page have pretty disparate maxima. According to the GFS, there will be two bullseyes with enough (~6") snow to make skiing feasible:

with the highest totals around 6" just north of Brainerd and another swath of decent snow over near Rhinelander. Unless it goes significantly further west, only some of the near-Brainerd trails (Northland, Grand View) would be in the running. And maybe something way east in Wisconsin.

The NAM, however, paints a prettier picture:
Not only does this bring the snow further south—with the Cities getting in on the action and more than three inches falling just north, but it gives a real dump—more than six inches!—across a nice swath of Wisconsin. In this scenario, the best skiing would be between Wausau, Eau Clare and Hayward, so various trails in Northwest Wisconsin would be in the running, although there's not really anything in the 8"+ section.

However, if we speculate that both models are off and the solution lies in between, it might put the most snow somewhere in the heart of Birkieland. Would I scoff at 8" of snow on Saturday on the Birkie Trail? No. No I would not.

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