Come fall, skier types start noticing things like the width of the bands on woolly bear caterpillars, how many squirrels and chipmunks are out and about, and when the geese head south, honking all the way.
We look at these as potential harbingers of the coming winter and try to figure out what the season will be like. Will we see lots of powder days? Will the January thaw ruin December’s gains? Will there be enough snow left come April for slushy spring skiing and goggle tans?
A couple of mid-November snowstorms have the snow-lovers among us all aflutter for winter, and according to this columnist’s research, the winter of 2019-2020 looks promising.
Like many good weather watchers, I started with The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which has been predicting the weather (along with the best time to plant the beans, incubate duck eggs, and make jam) since 1792.
“This winter in the Northeast promises to be a white out season for snow lovers. The first of three snowstorms sweeps through in the days before Thanksgiving, giving powder hounds plenty to be thankful for,” the 2020 Almanac claims. “Snow starts falling in the new year — and just does not stop.”
Sounds fantastic! But how the heck can the Almanac predict what will happen in January, when the weather app on my phone is usually only accurate for the next few hours?
“I wish I could say it was magic,” said Janice Stillman, who has served as editor for The Old Farmer’s Almanac since the 2002 edition and wrote the above passage. “We use solar science (the study of sunspots and other solar activity). We use climatology (the study of prevailing weather patterns). And we use meteorology (the study of the atmosphere).”
Stillman said the Almanac forecasts trends and deviations from normal temperatures and precipitation, with “normal” being a 30-year average. And she said the Almanac has an 80% accuracy rate, which seems pretty impressive — and a good sign, given this year’s predictions for our region, which include big snowstorms at Thanksgiving, the end of January, and around the solstice in March, setting up a good spring skiing season.
“Warmer spring weather teamed with amazing — and hilarious — events like cardboard box races and pond skims make for some of the most fun,” said Shannon Dunfey-Ball, marketing and communications manager for Ski New Hampshire.
But spring skiing is months in the future. Right now, with the early snowfall in the mountains and consistent cold temperatures that play into snowmaking plans, skiers and ski areas around the state are stoked for the start of ski season — which came Wednesday at Bretton Woods and arrives Friday at both Wildcat and Loon and Saturday at Cranmore.
When it comes to predicting what winter might bring in the way of weather, Dunfey-Ball remembers her Nana Shirl’s saying: “Squirrels gathering nuts in a flurry will cause snow to gather in a hurry.”
“I happen to have a squirrel-obsessed dog, so I’m very aware of the large squirrel population who have been very busy collecting winter snacks,” said Dunfey-Ball, who is hoping to cross-country ski at each of Ski New Hampshire’s 16 Nordic areas this season. “I’m looking forward to a snowy winter!”
Being prepared for a variety of outdoor fun — and for any kind of weather — is the best bet for having a good winter, said skiing aficionado Tyler Ray.
“The key to a good ski season in New England is a full winter quiver of all the tools, with the continuum swinging from backcountry to resort to Nordic to snowshoes to fat bike to ice skates and finally ice fishing,” he said. “If you play the conditions, you’ll enjoy your time outside.”
The best bets for deep snow, Ray said, include the eight glade zones created by Granite Backcountry Alliance, of which he is a founding board member, throughout New Hampshire and into western Maine.
“The deep days are what keep me working the ski legs hard in the early season,” he said. “You have to be ready for when the goods are delivered.”