Winter hit October in full force! Big Sky received 53” of snow compared to the 27” we normally receive this time of year. On average, we end up with 300” by the middle of April, so if the snowfall kept on at this pace, we would be looking at a banner year.
Roscoe Shaw has been forecasting weather for Big Sky Resort for the past 15 years. Not as a public service, but rather for the resort to utilize in planning their internal operations. Needless to say, he’s seen a lot of trends, so we caught up with him to get his thoughts on what our incredibly snowy fall means for the upcoming winter.
The short answer, “The indicators are neutral, “ he says, “They’re not giving a signal.”
Weather trends are influenced by whether it’s an El Nino, or La Nina year, an odd oscillation in the ocean that goes back and forth. If it’s a La Nina year, there is more cool air moving over the ocean, generally resulting in more snow in Big Sky. If it’s an El Nino year, there is more warm air over the Pacific, resulting in less snow. “I like to say that the girl is good, the boy is bad,” Shaw jokes.
In all seriousness, he says, “This year it’s neither, it’s right in the middle.” Shaw explains that there is a mathematical model for forecasting snow and powder. “Granted, it usually only makes a 10% difference, and it’s only right 2/3 of the time,” he says.
“Just because it was snowy last month doesn’t mean it will be next month,” he says . “It doesn’t mean a thing. There’s no reason to think it will or won’t be a big snow year. Last year, March had very little snow, but overall, it was a really good year.”
As for the frequency of snowy years, it’s entirely random. “Some times kids born short, some times they are tall,” he laughs.
What he can say with certainty is that Big Sky is extraordinarily consistent compared to other areas. “A bad year here is still good,” he says. “The farther south you get in the Rockies, the more inconsistent the snow becomes. You can have awesome snow one year, and the next year have barely any.” He goes on to explain, “A couple of years ago, there were Utah and Colorado license plates all over town. They had very little snow there, so everyone gave up and drove to Big Sky.”
So what makes our snow so special? “Big Sky has as good of snow as you can get,” Roscoe says, “because it stays so steady and cold and dry, which leads to very good snow quality. Other areas may get more snow at times, but Big Sky’s is consistently good.”
Shaw came to Big Sky in 1995, “We just don’t have snow bad years,” he says. “That, and the fact that we have so much terrain with so few people is what makes Big Sky the best.”
Well said, Mr. Shaw.