Long Range Weather Forecasts Not Very Accurate … OPENSNOW

The snow forecast for the 2015-2016 winter was supposed to be somewhat simple. Nearly all forecasters agreed that we would see one of the strongest El Nino events of the last 50 years, and this El Nino should have decently predictable effects on the winter storm track over North America.

We did in fact experience one of the strongest El Nino events, but unfortunately,nearly every forecaster was wrong about the winter storm track.

Most forecasters did not correctly predict the overall weather pattern, which was supposed to provide a lot of rain and snow for the southwestern US and drier-than-normal conditions for the northwestern US.

Of course, there are exceptions to the ‘everyone got it wrong’ statement. For example, I think BA did a nice job being cautiously optimistic with his Tahoe forecast last season.

Regional predictions aside, if we concentrate on the general weather pattern, we’ll see that most forecasters did not make an accurate six-month prediction.

What actually happened
The maps below shows the actual snowfall compared to average.

Orange is below average snowfall
White is about average snowfall
Blue is above average snowfall
The maps present identical data in different forms. The dots represent ski areas and the colored states represent the average of all ski areas in each state.


The main take away from these maps is that much of the west saw close to or above average snowfall, the southwest experienced near to below average snowfall, and the northeast had a tough winter with well below average snow.

The data we used to make the maps is sourced from backcountry weather stations called SNOTEL as well as local volunteer reports incorporated into the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN). We like using this data because it does not contain any possibility of ski area marketing bias and because we can automate its collection.


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