Snow was sparse at Whitetail (picture from Dec. 27, 2011) and other local ski resorts this winter.

Thanks to the season’s late start and early end, local resorts Whitetail and Liberty were open for less than 70 days this season while higher elevation areas were open for only about 100 days. On average (my guestimate), the typical range for the D.C. area is closer to 100 days (low elevation) to 140 days (high elevations).

Throughout the winter, we hoped and prayed for a period of colder air and at least the chance for a decent winter storm, but were left with short spurts of below-average or near-average temperatures broken up by long streaks of warmth. Resorts were forced to feverishly make snow during the cold spurts only to watch it melt away under warmth and rain. The result was late openings, meager skiable terrain, an early close to the season, and overall lousy conditions.

Before highlighting some stats, I want to look back to the start of the season. Although a distant memory at this point, many of us were truly hopeful for a bumper season after winter came early with an intense October Nor’easter that blanketed local mountains with up to a foot of snow, pounded many areas of the Northeast, and even offered rare October flakes for the D.C. area.

Related link: Readers, Capital Weather Watchers document rare October snow

This video from the Dolly Sods wilderness area (>4000 ft) depicts just how much snow fell in parts of West Virginia that weekend! Little did we know at the time, but that October storm turned out to be our only large Northeast storm of the season.

Temperatures: As CWG’s Jason Samenow noted in a recent post, this past astronomical winter was the warmest on record for the D.C. area. The season was characterized by a complete lack of “Greenland blocking,” which meant that the cold, when it did arrive, couldn’t hang on and was simply pushed out by the next incoming batch of warmth and rain. Looking at the table below, we can see that each month was above average throughout the area. Barring a dramatic shift in the pattern, I would expect March to join this list and post one of the largest departures of the season (and possibly on record).


End of the Season: Stating the obvious, resorts have had a difficult time staying open over the past few weeks. The lack of base, little stored snow, and no possibility for snowmaking has meant that resorts have had few options but to shut their doors earlier than planned. As of now, only Timberline Ski Area in West Virginia plans to open top to bottom this weekend, but will close on Sunday, officially ending the 2011-12 mid-Atlantic ski season.

The author is a meteorologist with OpenSnow.com