The Snow Gauge

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NZ snow season prediction: don’t pack yet

Posted by on May 13, 2016 in New Zealand | 0 comments

Jamie Anderson

Jamie Anderson getting the goods in the Thompsons Range near Queenstown, NZ. Pic: Dan Himbrechts.


Booked to go across the ditch this season or considering heading to the Shaky Isles? Well then, you better read The Snow Gauge interview with the NZ Metservice and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) about what’s in store for the snow season.

Key points:

  • It’s bloody warm over there at the moment folks!
  • Like Australia, don’t expect too much early
  • Treble Cone could ultimately benefit most from the prevailing conditions
  • Snow levels could be a bit dicey this year
  • Ruapehu might struggle early 

Last season was an absolute cracker in New Zealand. The snow started coming in May, there were consistent storms and there was plenty of the white stuff around well into spring.

I fondly recall skiing top to bottom at Mt Ruapehu, second week of October, thanks very much.

The thing is this year it has been very warm and while the Metservice and NIWA don’t like to go nuts with their predictions this far out, let’s just say the suggestions are this may not exactly be a repeat of 2015.

Short term outlook

Metservice only deals in a month ahead but it still offers something of an insight into what we can expect early in NZ. Unfortunately, like Australia, the news isn’t great.

“It’s been a pretty warm month leading up to May and this month has been particularly warm so far,” Metservice Meteorologist Ciaran Doolin, told The Snow Gauge.

“All signs point to it finishing 1-1.5 degrees above average.”There’s certainly been a lesser frequency of cold, southerly outbreaks with more west to north westerly flows decreasing the likelihood of snow.”

But have a look at this for next week:


Queenstown weather

Queenstown Weather for next week

Given Queenstown is at 310 metres ASL these temperatures and conditions suggest some decent snow in the alps, surely?

While Doolin concedes this system is setting up nicely, he’s not exactly convinced it is a season starter like 2015.

“With these temperatures it’s just a question of whether it sticks around,” he said.

He added that because of this country-wide warmer weather he would expect the higher elevation resorts of the South Island to do better than the North Island at this point in time.

The longer term

Gregor Macara, NIWA climate scientist was a little reluctant to stick his neck completely out but ultimately gave some very interesting observations.

His rider: ” … It only takes one big dump of snow to turn a poor season of snow depth into a good season, or conversely one big rain event to rinse a good snowpack.  Frankly, it’s too early to say with any confidence, but my thoughts:

“We’re anticipating a NWerly flow anomaly in the coming three months.  NWerlies are inherently warm, however they can do a good job of delivering decent precipitation to the Southern Lakes (particularly Treble Cone) as that area is close to the Main Divide.  NWers tend to deliver decent snowfalls at higher elevations in the Southern Lakes, but lower elevations (e.g. Coronet Peak) can struggle, particularly early in the season, due to relatively high freezing levels causing precipitation events to fall as rain not snow.

It’s incredibly warm down south at the moment (just like everywhere else), and temperatures so far in May in Queenstown are 5 degC above normal.  The forecast of above average temperatures in the coming three months could reduce the opportunity for snowmaking.  Warmer temperatures mean freezing levels are at higher elevations, and the temperature needs to be at or around freezing (0°C) before the snowguns can fire up.”

Macara didn’t want to predict a “bumper” or “bummer” ski season for NZ at this stage.

So there it is. Don’t panic just yet but at the very least it may be a case of biding your time a little this NZ season.




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