Olympic years = snow & May don’t matter
- The average peak snow depth (since measurements were taken in 1954) in Australia during (summer) Olympic years is 245cm
- Nationally May has been one of the warmest on record but history has shown a warm fifth month doesn’t have to equate to a poor snow season
You’re still swimming at the beach in Sydney. You may be riding your mountain bike at Canberra’s Mt Stromlo in base layers. In Melbourne you’re sitting at a Lygon St cafe on a glorious Saturday afternoon that’s tipping 26 degrees.
It’s hot. Hot damn. Make a dragon want to retire man.
Ok, I’m hearing you. You’re worried about the snow this season. So was I.
But I’m here to allay your fears with some amazing statistics about Australian snow depth during Olympic years and some slightly more scientific observations about why May’s heat may not matter.
First up. You’ve probably heard that whole (summer) Olympic year thing about better snow depths.
I had and just went along with it. But an analysis of the 15 Games from 1956 shows that the average depths during those years is 245cm. That’s up 20 per cent from the 62 year average of 197cm!
The spread is interesting too. There’s no complete dud years (-120cm); only one substantially below average year 1988 (130.6cm) and just three fall below the 62 year average.
Admittedly there’s no science in this. Unless of course the IOC has some kind of bizarre contra-deal to cloud seed over the Australian Alps during Games years (and I wouldn’t completely rule that out) but it nonetheless encourages me greatly.
Now, back to proper weather and stuff
The numbers thus far show that nationally we’re headed for one of the warmest May months on record – Sydney itself hasn’t seen a first half of May like this since records started being taken in 1858.
But before you push the ski gear a bit further into the back of the cupboard I wish to present to you the year that was 1958.
That year was +2.11 degrees above the national 30-year average for the month (1961-90 as set by the Bureau of Meteorology), making it (nationally) the warmest May on record.
So, you ask, how did that snow season pan out? Well, like this:
And it wasn’t even an Olympic year!
Like this season it started with a snow drop in May (albeit a bigger one) and then nothing substantial to speak of in June. Then came the boom.
It went from 53.8cm at Spencer’s Creek (1830m) on June 30 to to 180.8cm three weeks later. From that point we sat on at least a 1.5m base until well beyond the season close.
In 2007 most of Queensland, NSW, Victoria and the ACT had its warmest May (at the time) on record but didn’t have wrecks as far as the snow season went. In 2007 it was up +1.73 degrees on the national 30-year average for May and the snow base that year peaked at 164.4cm on August 9 (with a 1metre+ base for three months of the season). In 2014 it was +1.62 degrees above the national average for May and the season delivered an eerily similar overall graph: a 168.5cm top in August and around three months of a 1m+ base.
For the record I skied in early July 2014 at Thredbo and enjoyed some of the best conditions I had experienced there in the past decade.
Mirroring the national trend the numbers thus far for the month of May don’t make great reading. At the Thredbo Top Station (1957m) the average high has been 7.5 degrees; the low 1.1 degrees. The average (1966-2015) is 4.9 degrees and and -1.3 degrees respectively. Ouch.
While clearly you would expect 2016 to draw closer to the average in the back half of May as the weather gets colder, it won’t get that close.
Again though, you can’t assume that this is an indicator as to how the winter will play out.
If we go the opposite way and look at the worst season on record – 2006, you’ll find that May was actually colder than the 50-year average. And not insubstantially either – by +1.4 degrees.
There was a 24.1cm base on May 11 (no doubt prompting resort marketing departments to go into pre-season overdrive) but not much more until mid-July. August 31 saw the season peak at a hugely disappointing 85.1cm.
So what does it all mean?
Maybe not that much. I’m not a meteorologist or even an amateur forecaster. I just wanted to look at the numbers to see what had played out in previous years.
Hot Mays don’t always have a correlation to the season ahead one way or another.
As in life, past results aren’t always an indicator of future performances. But at the very least while you’re still sitting in your board shorts I’d like to give you some hope what lies ahead.
Bring on Rio and the snow season!