Snow Forecast for the Alps Winter 2019-2020


Check out the signs and forecasts for a snow this winter in the Alps.

Style Altitude is known for original content, features that always have an edge. Or two. We write about all aspects of skiing and snowboarding. Visit the rest of our site for the award-winning, (almost) daily Ski Blog with ski touring and backcountry reports plus gear reviews, style views and interviews. We have a webcam overlooking the pistes of Serre Chevalier so see the weather and snow cover for yourself here at Style Altitude HQ.

Skiers in the Alps are braced, big mountain powder skis waxed, ready for a storm and more snow. Also with face masks on preparing for the coronavirus to hit.

February is going out with a big flurry even in the Southern Alps, which has suffered a pretty dry month. And Scotland has scored big time thanks to the storms that have hit the UK. Flooding in England has meant snowdrifts in the Scottish highlands. Happier days, at last, for the ski resorts (see main image, Nevis Range on 26th February). 

Two weeks ago Antarctica hit the hottest temperature ever recorded. A reading of 18.3ºC was taken at the Argentinian research station on the northern tip of the continent’s peninsula nearest to South America. Meanwhile, there are warnings that the Pacific edge of the Arctic Ocean is warming up, from data gathered on water temperatures, sea ice levels and wildlife patterns from the Bering and Chukchi marine shelf between Alaska and Russia. This is resulting in early snowmelts and melting permafrost that releases greenhouse gases.

This is not good news for the planet, let alone our weather systems, which are swinging like gondolas in the wind. 

So February kicked off with a slippery start with a thaw/freeze causing icy conditions and Austria scoring the most snow. Even in the snow-starved Southern Alps, it could be a lot worse and better than going all the way to Japan in January, this winter, where the Japow snow machine was dialled down until mid-February. Across the pond, Colorado was nuked by heavy snow with a metre and a half falling over 48 hours thanks to a powerful jet stream. So cheers to more of that Steamboat trademarked 'champagne powder'.

November  (Snovember) and December were superb for off piste and ski touring and a sprinkling of sparkly white stuff created Christmas card landscapes for the festive season in resort. Yep you should have been here.

But what's in store for the rest of the ski season 2020?  Well, many a seasonaire will tell you that an early and spectacular start to the ski season often means we end up with a disappointing winter for snow. 

We did not have El Nino to give forecasters a weather heads-up

But the recent Atlantic storms in February are finally hitting the Alps. Low pressure tracking across the North Atlantic with isobars stretching from the west of Ireland right across northern Europe with a series of fronts and troughs over central Europe has created the best scenario for snow with the northern Alps scoring more than the south, repeating the pattern since the beginning of the year.

The snow has been receding in inclement warm termperatures in the south, like a tsunami tide, the calm before the current storm. With such a good base what we don't need is an early spring with above freezing temperatures at night in the Alps. Cold nights, though, and warm days could give us classic spring touring well into May.

Of course, this winter we did not have El Nino to give forecasters a weather heads-up for what the rest of 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.

 The atmosphere is certainly capable of wild swings

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

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

The wild swing to high temperatures had Australia sizzling (literally with the bush fires) in record heat and meant that last summer in the USA, the pavements were melting during the hottest days on many records. One weather forecast announced 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.

And then we wonder if climate change exists

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'.

Climate change sceptics might quote the fact that the highest temperature ever recorded was 56.7 °C (134.1 °F) over 100 years ago on 10th July 1913 in the so-aptly named, Furnace Creek. Climate crisis advocates will counter that, according to NOAA,'s National Centres for Environmental Information, July 2019 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 (again, see first para).

 It may remind you of a polar coaster.

So where are we going with all this for the rest of the ski season 2020? It's looking like a variable feast. According to the famous Farmer's Almanac predicting the weather 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'.

Best advice for the rest of this ski season is to buy your tickets for the polar coaster as close as you can to your holiday and get the optimum ride according to the snow forecasts although, of course, we'll all believe the ones we want to be true as in the highest peaking line in the GFS weather ensemble predicting metres of light powdery snow falling. 

Of course, you could burn all your ski or snowboard gear as a sacrifice to the snow gods but, then, you'd  just be adding to global warming - and Lord knows what that will do to the scalding temperatures in Australia, melting snowcaps and future snowfalls.

Breaking news: Weather researchers are now saying the probability of El Niño is around 80 percent for the end of this year. So it could work to our advantage for snow in the Alps, next winter 2020-21. Check back and we'll let you know...