(WOWK) — The following article was written by chief meteorologist Spencer Adkins for the Ski Southeast web site as a contribution to their winter snow outlook.


I am glad I waited a little bit to look into snow forecasts for the high terrain of West Virginia.  Just one week ago we were sitting with temperatures in the 70s, lots of brown grassy slopes, and snow sports enthusiasts pacing nervously, checking out the latest weather info.  

Fast forward one week and we have snow on the ground at some resorts, some natural and some man made.  Lows have been running consistently in the 20s and teens and the “snow guns” have been cranking out some really nice base.  (*Note, this was submitted November 19 and we have had another warm spell with 60s on Thanksgiving)

I am pretty sure this is the way the entire winter is going to go: back and forth with 1-2 week stretches of warm to colder.

That said, the NOAA forecast was truly for some 50-50 conditions in our overall region.  There really is not a stronger than normal signal one way or the other in terms of influences on our region for the winter.  Yes, LaNina is back for yet another engagement.  However, there are some subtle differences in various ocean temperature scenarios, which is also normal.  We’ve discovered that not all LaNinas are the same an El Nino patterns can have multiple variations as well.

Sea surface temperatures as of November 23, 2022

Full admission: I am not a huge teleconnection forecasting expert.  My forte lies in 7 day forecasts.  That said, I have always been a fan of looking at the broader pattern in late October and early November for clues as to what we will be likely to see.  The last few years, I’ve seen the pattern this time of year get really repetitive, well into April.  It’s called the Pacific North American pattern, or PNA.  When PNA is positive, the cold air cranks down from Canada into our area.  When PNA is negative, the cold air shoves down into the western U.S.  This is a repetitive PNA+ pattern I see coming.  

Examples of the Pacific North American pattern

So far we have seen the trough of lower pressure and colder air set up shop, leaving us under the influence of the cold air dome that sort of “oozes in” from Canada behind cold fronts at least 3 times in the past few weeks.  We had one of those southern systems that could have been a big snow maker if this had been January or February.

My gut tells me we will have a couple (let’s say 2 minimum) southern snow makers that will add healthy amounts at the ski resorts in January and February. 

Example of southern style storm system that brings snow to the region

The rest will come with the regular kind of snow that spreads in from the west along or just behind a cold front followed by the lake enhanced streamer bands off of the Great Lakes on the northwest fetch of air. 

Lake enhanced snow pattern with moisture from the Great Lakes and upslope snow

The difference for the ski resorts is, you get a much more efficient production of snow from a smaller amount of moisture than you would somewhere else like a Charleston or Roanoke.  Those occasional snow storms in D.C. and Charlotte usually have the wetter snow that compacts and is heavy to shovel.  Ski resort snow in West Virginia is normally light and fluffy with the “needle-y” kind of flake formation.  Basically: good skiing powder.  

To me: Nature has shown us enough cards in her hand to say that trough/cold air dome will be the main feature this winter with plenty of snow.  Hitting the normals shouldn’t be a problem in terms of inches of snow.  I see Snowshoe listed in a few places as normally seeing 150 inches of snow.  In my book, there’s no reason we can’t see that much once again.  Add in the super efficient snow making capacity there and at other resorts, and you’re looking at plenty of time to get out on the slopes and carve it up.  

I’m sure we’ll also have 1-2 short warm spells when the doom and gloomers think ski season is done, but until the overall LaNina loosens it’s grip, that “trough in the east” is the snow enthusiast’s friend.  Enjoy and be safe out there!