Snow Forecast for the Alps Winter 2019-2020


Powder skis waxed and ready? Check out the signs and forecasts for a snowy winter in the Alps.

Counting red berries and measuring the height of ant hills before the start of the winter 2019-2020 ski season is the traditional folklore way of predicting the snowfall and, some would say, as potentially accurate as all the official measurements of ocean temperatures and El Nino / La Nina effects.

Although it was a dry October, the season has kicked off, for those that earn their turns, and it was big time for November.

Snovember has now passed and we kick off December with a major snowfall across most of the Alps, with many low resorts expecting 40+ cms

Ski stations have opened earlier than scheduled and not just those at altitude, for example, Les 7 Laux, near Grenoble which is not exactly high, has been opening since mid-November.

It would seem that the majority of the snow so far has been delivered by a series of depressions emanating over Northern Italy and sweeping up across the Alpes, hence the floods in Venice, so the Southern and Maritime Alps have faired well so far.

However warm fronts and the dreaded Föhn Sudföhn have eradicated much of the snow at lower altitudes, which can be the way with a big thaw that can devastate a snowpack within a few days, all before Christmas! 

And last weekend 22nd / 23rd November again for the Southern Alps there was a lot of frontal activity and a series of troughs centred over Northern Italy, Genoa to be precise, and the Classic Genoa Low, or Retour d'Est, which saw snowfalls of up to a meter at 1,500m in the Queyras and and Piedmont, especially Sestriere.Genoa Low

And this is the predicted impact again of those fronts, with the Southern and Alpes Maritimes resorts benefitting from the weather systems tracking up from the Med.

Alps Snow Fall December 1st 2019


But does this mean we're in for a great powder season? Not if you look at past winters' snow records. Last season, for instance, it was looking so good at the beginning of winter, we were ski touring in Serre Chevalier in the Southern Alps on 3rd November and shredding the powder early December. But the rest of the season was pretty average with far fewer powder days, a dry February and more wind than the year before (although it did stay around until mid-May for ski touring)..

 Colorado’s statewide snowpack was at a whopping 539 percent above normal

This winter we do not have El Nino to give forecasters a weather heads-up for what the winter will bring. The El Nino effect of 2019 brought major snowfall in the USA, where many ski resorts remained open on Independence Day, 4th July. Mammoth Mountain in the Eastern Sierra had hoped a winter of epic snowfall would allow skiing into August but instead ended its season on 28th July. Mammoth accumulated 718 inches (1,824 centimetres) of snow at its summit and 492 inches (1,250 centimetres) at the main lodge, last winter.

Meanwhile, at the beginning of June, Colorado’s statewide snowpack was at a whopping 539 per cent above normal. The jumbo snowpack was deepest in the San Juans where the snow level was at 1093 per cent above normal.

In Europe, it was a different story. 'Because of the weather of this summer, 2 Alpes Loisirs (the ski lift company) can't provide a high qualitative ski product anymore,' announced the resort. There were two main heatwaves with peak temperatures of 19C at 3,200m in Les2Alpes. The resort reluctantly closed the slopes after opening back at the end of June although it had planned to remain open to 25th August.

 The atmosphere is certainly capable of wild swings

Weather experts have now declared the El Niño of 2019 is officially over. Near-average conditions in the tropical Pacific indicate that we have returned to ENSO-neutral conditions (neither El Niño or La Niña is present). Predictions are for an ENSO-neutral (50-55 per cent chance) through this Northern Hemisphere winter.

A return to neutral means that we will not get that predictable influence from El Niño or La Niña, but the atmosphere is certainly capable of wild swings without a push from either influence. Basically, ENSO-neutral means that the job of seasonal forecasters gets a bit tougher.

The snow was melting, along with the pavements

The wild swing to high temperatures meant that in the USA the snow was melting, along with the pavements during the hottest summer on many records. An experimental weather service forecast projected that nearly 100 local records would be broken in Texas, Oklahoma, parts of the Midwest and a large swath of the East Coast during the heatwave of July 2019.

Meanwhile, the Mexican city of Guadalajara was blasted by a summer hailstorm that dropped up to three feet of ice in some areas. Astonishing photos on 1st July from the region showed a wintry scene in the middle of summer with the city almost entirely covered with ice. Jalisco Governor, Enrique Alfaro Ramirez tweeted, 'Hail more than a metre high, and then we wonder if climate change exists'.

 July was the hottest month ever recorded on planet earth,

Experts from the Copernicus Climate Change Service studied European Union data on temperatures across the continent. They found that the European average temperature for June 2019 was higher than for any other June on record - at 2°C (3.6°F) above normal. Top temperature records were smashed in France which saw a new high of 45.9°C (114.6°F), more than 1.5C above the previous record.

According to NOAA,'s National Centres for Environmental Information, July was the hottest month ever recorded on planet earth, the average global temperature reaching 1.71 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average of 60.4 degrees. While this may have been good news for ice cream sales, it was bad news for the ice caps as with these record temperatures the Arctic and Antarctic sea ice shrank to record lows.

 It may remind you of a polar coaster.

So where are we going with all this for the ski season 2019-2020? Another season, it seems, of variables. According to the famous Farmer's Almanac predicting the future for the USA, 'this winter will be filled with so many ups and downs on the thermometer, it may remind you of a polar coaster.'

Buying your roller coaster tickets for Colorado is a good bet as it's been snowing since October. Winter Park in Colorado is already enjoying the polar coaster ride, opening for the first weekend in November, the earliest in the resort's 80-year history thanks not only to a $4m upgrade in snowmaking machines but also to the early-season snowfalls dropping 40 inches in October.  With 51 inches of total snowfall this month, Big Sky has also planned a November opening with more than double its usual amount of snow during its third snowiest October in the past 20 years.

Reading Severe Weather Europe we understand that currently (November) there is a high-pressure area focused over Greenland and the Arctic. Lower pressure is displaced a bit further south, along with polar fronts and colder air. This type of pattern usually brings colder and snowy weather to Europe and USA. As  'If you love winter and you want snow, and you happen to live in Europe or USA, this is what you want to see in the forecasts. The problem we have is the large low-pressure area in the North Pacific. That is a more typical feature for a proper stronger El Nino, and is completely opposite of (sic)  what the latest long-range model forecasts are calculating'.

And here's a weather warning

So the weather experts are scratching their heads, putting together statistics, tearing them up, rewriting their forecasts as enlightened as we are counting red berries on the bushes in the mountains. And here's a weather warning, no long-range snow forecast is going to be completely accurate and we'll all believe the ones we want to be true as in predicting metres of light powdery snow falling throughout the ski season 2020.

Of course, you could burn all your ski or snowboard gear as a sacrifice to the Snow Gods but, then, you'd be adding to global warming - and Lord knows what that will do to the weather and future snowfalls.

For regular weather updates in the Alps with live webcam in Serre Chevalier click here