Winter 2013/14 long-range weather forecast for Europe, French Alps and Chamonix

Autumn has arrived in Chamonix.

The colours of the mountains and trees are a vivid mass of reds and browns.  The snow line creeps downwards, and my excitement at the forthcoming ski season skips whenever I see fresh white powder coating the high mountains.

We had epic snow conditions last season.  So, as we move towards the new ski season, my excitement always grows, and I find myself wondering what this season will bring…

Whilst we wait eagerly, the question always arises in my mind, “What will the coming ski season hold in store for us?”

Well, the local rag,  le Dauphine Libéré, recently featured an article interviewing two renowned French weather forecasters who come up with their own month-by-month predictions for this coming season.  The two were in agreement over a couple of points:  that the ski stations would certainly NOT be short on snow this year!  However, both predicted a winter shorter than last year, with Spring arriving early April.

The “old boys”, observing the local fauna with its large and abundant blueberries, would predict a harsh winter.  However, others have noticed the lack of the normal sound of woodpeckers tapping on the trees – which would seem to suggest a warmer, wetter winter is predicted.  Based on last year’s forecast, the modern methods are only a slightly bit more accurate!

Dominique Hennequin, meteorologist and forecaster, announces a winter shorter than last year, but with lots of snow.  His advice is to put on your snow tyres before the end of November!

November
Snowy passage down to 600m at the start of the month, then mild weather,  sometimes wet, but with beautiful Autumn days.  Second half of the month will be more dusturbed and windy, with snow about 1800m, then 1000m, abundant in the mountains.  Storm possible at the end of the month with snow down to the plains.

The plains are the valley floor running from Geneva up to Sallanches and Le Fayet up to about 500 metres above sea level.
By comparison, the skiing in Les Houches is from 1000m to 1800m and Chamonix is typically 1800m to 3300 at the top of Grands Montets.

December
Wet and cold, snow to 600m, sometimes down to the plains, abundant above 700-800m during the first three weeks.  Sunny Christmas, but glacial temperatures until the New Year.

January
Continued good weather, cold and dry during the first half of the month, then snow down to the plains followed by rains, the snow-rain level rising up to 700m.  Snow in the mountains, then a return to sunny and cold weather in the mountains, but grey and wet on the plains underneath the stratus clouds.

February
Start of the month will be beautiful in the mountains, but grey, cold, and wet at the valley floors, then snow fall down to the plains.  The second half of the month will see beautiful, warm weather in the mountains, before a return to snow in the ski stations.

March
Wet weather, windy and cold with snow down to the plains in the first half of the month, then classical march weather with sunny, warm days alternating with cold, disturbed weather patterns passing through (snow showers possible down to the plains).

 

For Frederic Decker, meteorologist for MeteoNews and volunteer weather forecaster for Météo France in Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois, the winter is going to start warm, with snow in the high mountains, which will be conserved by the low temperatures of January and February.

November
Normal autumn weather.  Temperatures a bit warmer than the seasonal average, with a rainy period.

December
Rather warm, wet month, the snow staying on the high mountains.

January
More wintery weather with temperatures lower than normal.  Snow in the mountains, but weather will be drier on the plains.

February
A cold, wet month, snowy like January.

March
Like a normal March, always wet, but not very cold.  Winter is not going to be running into overtime!

Well, that’s what I think the article says anyway….

 

So, here’s my own prediction….

Using the CFS monthly mean anomalies with start dates 12-21 October, here is my own long-range prediction for Chamonix:

November
What CFS shows: Drier than normal – warmer than seasonal average
My interpretation: We are going to have a warmer, and drier start to the season.  Because it is warmer than usual, the ground will not freeze early, which means any precipitation – ie snow – will not stick at Les Houches levels until just before the official start to the ski season in December.  Higher up, it might stick, but there will not be amazing amounts of early snow.

December
What CFS shows: Average precipitation – slightly warmer than seasonal average
My interpretation: Hey, we are going to get a reasonable amount of snow.  If it is indeed warmer than seasonal average, the higher resorts will receive the best snow, so don’t stay at low resorts in the French Alps…  Think Chamonix – Grands Montets, especially – will be FINE!   However, Les Houches may not have the abundant start to the season like it did last year.

January
What CFS shows: Wetter than normal – with normal temperatures –
My interpretation: Fantastic!!  Wetter than normal, but with normal temperatures for January means LOTS OF SNOW here at chalet level!  Wetter than normal could be a LOT arriving in a few goes – or it could be LOTS arriving throughout the month.  This means either a fantastic base, or lots of fresh, untracked powder arriving on a regular basis throughout the month!!

February
What CFS shows: Wetter than normal – normal temperatures
My interpretation:  Awesome!!!  Normal snows in February are good.  So, therefore, wetter than normal means above average snow for February which means better than normal!!!  Continued good powder skiing throughout February…

CFS precipitation for Europe Feb 2014

CFS precipitation for Europe Feb 2014

March
What CFS shows: MUCH wetter than normal – normal temperatures
My interpretation:  Here is where it gets a little tricky…  Normal temperatures for March means it can indeed rain at chalet level, especially towards the end of the month.  The CFS prediction for Chamonix is for A LOT greater precipitation than the season average.  This means higher up, it will be simply AMAZING!!  There will be ENORMOUS amounts of snow!  So, Grands Montet, the Vallée Blanche will be AWESOME!!  However at chalet level, this story is a mixed bag.   What we find from the past, is that this type of weather normally alternates between rain and snow…  Sometime rain dampens the lower pistes, then it gets colder overnight and then the rain turns to snow, and puts it back onto the piste…  As we progress through the month and the average temperatures rise, this means the average rain-snow level rises…  This would suggest the first half of March will have better skiing than the second half if you are skiing a mid-level.

April
What CFS shows: MUCH wetter than normal – normal temperatures
My interpretation:  Same as last month, except with increasing average temperatures – which means a rising rain-snow level – ie. the lower slopes get affected more, and the higher slopes less so.   Whilst this might bring about an earlier end to decent snow conditions here in Les Houches, the higher slopes – Grands Montets especially – will still be receiving snow when other ski stations are being rained on!  Rain is NOT good for snow conditions – rain trumps sun for wrecking the pistes – so the sunny-side high slopes of Brevent/Flegere will suffer as well.  I would predict an earlier end to Winter, and start of Spring.

But… who knows….  the CFS forecasts are still very much in their infancy, and we can but hope that their accuracy improves!!!

 

 

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