Snow prospects for the ski season in West Virginia

(WOWK) – The following article was written by Chief Meteorologist Spencer Adkins for the Ski Southeast website as a contribution to their winter snow forecast.


I’m glad I waited a bit to check out the snow forecast for the West Virginia highlands. Just a week ago we were sitting there with temperatures around the 70s, lots of brown grassy slopes and snow sports enthusiasts striding up and down nervously, checking the current weather information.

Fast forward a week and we have snow on the ground at some resorts, some natural and some man-made. There were always lows in the 20’s and teens and the “snow cannons” created a really nice base. (*Note that this was filed on November 19th and we had another warm spell on Thanksgiving with the 60s.)

I’m pretty sure the whole winter will be like this: back and forth with 1-2 week streaks going from warm to colder.

However, the NOAA forecast was really for about 50-50 conditions across our region. There really isn’t a stronger than normal signal in terms of what’s affecting our region for the winter. Yes, LaNina is back for another engagement. However, there are some subtle differences in different ocean temperature scenarios, which is also normal. We have found that not all LaNinas are created equal, and El Nino patterns can also have multiple variations.

Sea surface temperatures for November 23, 2022

Full admission: I’m not much of an expert on telecom forecasting. My strength lies in 7-day forecasts. However, I’ve always been a fan of looking at the broader pattern in late October and early November for clues as to what we’re likely to see. In recent years I’ve seen the pattern repeat itself very much at this time of year well into April. It is called the Pacific North American Pattern or PNA. When PNA is positive, cold air blows into our area from Canada. When PNA is negative, cold air is pushing toward the western United States. This is a repeating PNA+ pattern that I see coming.

Examples of the Pacific-North American pattern

So far we’ve seen the trough of lower pressure and colder air form, leaving us under the influence of the cold air dome “seeping in” from behind cold fronts from Canada at least three times in the last few weeks. We had one of those southern systems that could have been a big snowmaker if this had been January or February.

My gut tells me we’ll have a few (let’s say at least 2) southern snow guns adding a healthy amount to the ski resorts in January and February.

Example of a southern style storm system bringing snow to the region

The remainder will come with the normal type of snow spreading from the west along or just behind a cold front, followed by the lakes-enhanced streamer bands in front of the Great Lakes at the northwest air intake.

Lake-enhanced snow pattern with moisture from the Great Lakes and snow from the slope

The difference with ski resorts is that you get much more efficient snow production with a lower amount of moisture than other places like Charleston or Roanoke. Those occasional DC and Charlotte snowstorms usually have the wetter snow that packs and is difficult to shovel. Snow at West Virginia ski resorts is typically light and fluffy with a “needle” flake formation. Basically: good ski powder.

To me: Nature has given us enough cards at hand to say that trough/cold air hall will be the main feature this snowy winter. Hitting the normal shouldn’t be a problem when it comes to inches of snow. I see Snowshoe listed in some places as typically seeing 150 inches of snow. In my opinion there is no reason why we can’t see as much again. Add in the super-efficient snowmaking capacity there and at other resorts, and you’ll have plenty of time to hit the slopes and carve it.

I’m sure we’ll also have 1-2 short warm spells when the Doom and Gloomers think the ski season is over, but until the general LaNina loosens her grip, the “valley to the east” is the snow enthusiast’s friend. Have fun and be safe out there!

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