Snow at First Sight

Just Fell for It

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When Avalanches Become Historic

Unless you live in the mountains, especially high altitude mountains, you probably do not realize how many avalanches actually occur. The vast majority happen in remote areas with little damage to people or property.  
March 2019 was a record-breaking avalanche cycle for the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, with some catastrophic consequences. During the course of the month, scientists recorded more than 600 avalanches, breaking all previous records. Estimates suggest these accounted for only about 25% of the total avalanches.  
What made for this particular season and the significant number of slides? 

Early Season Setup 

Scientists studying the avalanches said it was not one particular factor, but really a series of events that spanned the entire winter. It started with an early-season setup. 
Snow began accumulating a little earlier than normal, with storms starting in October 2018. However, this was followed by a dry November, weakening the snow base, drying it out and weakening it for the rest of the season. 
The majority of the winter saw some frequent show, but not enough to trigger slides. This led to a lot of building snow on top of the weak base layer, adding weight that would eventually lead to what we saw in March. 

Late Season Storms 

What pushed the snow over the edge was heavy snow late in the season. This accumulated more weight quickly, on top of the fragile base layer that was already teetering with the snow from the rest of the season. Add to that the winds that accompanied these storms, causing massive change on the mountains very quickly. All of this combined to give you a dangerous situation. 
Are these likely to continue? Scientists do not know at this point. Without this particular combination of events, the 2019 season would not have been nearly so severe. 

When Winter Becomes Historic in Michigan

Talking about winter storms in Michigan is like talking about tornados in Oklahoma, they are just a part of life. Occasionally, however, these storms are so strange they leave an impression and become memorable to Michiganders. 
This was the case with the historic storm that passed through Southeast Michigan on January 11th, 2019. 

Snow is Normal, Rain is Not 

Normally a winter storm in Southeast Michigan consists of snow, maybe a little freezing rain, but mainly snow. This is a normal occurrence for January. This time, however, it was rain in the forecast, not snow. 
Why is this a big deal, while snow may not be? Snow is frozen and sits on top of the ground. Rain, being liquid, just pools or runs. During non-winter months, the ground helps absorb this rain, reducing the amount that runs. In winter, however, with frozen ground, there is no place for the rain to soak into, so it just runs and collects in low-lying areas. 
Again, this might not be an issue if it was just a normal rainstorm, bringing a little bit of rain and then leaving. This particular storm brought in excess of three inches of water in some spots. This is record-breaking rainfall for the area for January.  

When Rain Meets Cold 

The other major hazard of this storm was the cold front following the rain. As the rain was winding down, the temperatures started dropping, and bringing freezing rain and ice before it was all said and done. This cold air froze a lot of the water that had already fallen, and the falling ice and freezing rain caused some power outages throughout the area. 

Coast to Coast Record for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is no stranger to odd weather. There have been blizzards, hurricanes, tornados and other forms of severe and dangerous weather. However, Thanksgiving of 2019 was a whole new story, with wintery and dangerous weather stretching the country from coast to coast. 

West Coast Snow and Rain 

On the west coast, one system was dumping heavy snow and strong winds in the north, and flooding rains in the south. The snow and wind were causing blizzard conditions in Oregon, California, Nevada, and Idaho. This caused several states, including Arizona, to shut down major highways due to unsafe driving conditions. 
In southern California, the system was dumping torrential rains, causing flooding in an area just ravaged by a wildfire.  

East Coast Snow 

Meanwhile, another system had moved through the Plains and Midwest, taking aim for the Northeast. This system had already produced over a foot of snow in some areas of the northern Midwest. It continued to move east impacting states from Pennsylvania to Maine with heavy snow and strong winds, causing blizzard conditions in some areas. 

Dangerous Wildfires 

The icing on this cake was the wind that affected most of the United States as a result of these two storms. In Oklahoma, there were already 26 different wildfires raging, and these winds only pushed the rapid spread of the fires. This sparked a state of emergency, with more than 15,000 people without power, and two counties evacuating residents. 
Some people certainly welcome early snow, and it can be fun. However, when storms rage from coast to coast, it can have significant and severe effects on property, safety, and travel during such a busy time. 

Freak September Snow Storm Hits Montana

Snow in the Rockies is like ice in Antarctica, it happens. However, even for the Rockies, a September snowstorm that leaves feet of snow behind is a bit freaky. 

Snow, Cold and Wind Oh My! 

This particular storm fell from September 28-29, 2019 and affected parts of Washington, Idaho, and Montana. In Montana, the snowfall totals ranged from 48 inches in Browning in the northern part of the state, to just under 20 inches in great falls in the center of the state. 
The snow was not the only newsmaker, though. Record low temperatures reached down into the teens, and winds were howling with 30-35 mph winds. These were all record-setting numbers for a winter storm so early in the season. 

Left in the Cold 

All of these combined to bring down trees and led to widespread power outages. Following these record-breaking events, the governor issued a state of emergency for the affected areas.  

It Ends with a Flood 

One of the concerns following this storm was the amount of snow that fell in just a couple of days, and the quick melt-off that was to follow, leading to area flooding and concerns over mud. You can read even more about this unprecedented snow event in this news article from NPR. 

Unbelievable Blizzard Hits Salina

Kansas is no stranger to winter storms. However, the blizzard that hit the Salina area on November 25, 2018 was one for the record books. 

An Early Winter Storm 

Several factors contributed to what made this particular blizzard a memorable one. The first being there was no previous record of a blizzard hitting Kansas before the start of the meteorological winter, which begins December 1.  

Snarling Thanksgiving Travel 

Second, this was at the end of Thanksgiving weekend. That meant travel plans were impacted, causing some to cut their trips short to avoid the hazardous weather. It was also not a long-range forecast for the blizzard. The initial estimates were for a mere two to four inches with the system. Salina saw 6.8 inches by the end of the storm. In the areas hardest hit in Kansas, snowfall totals were 14 inches. 
The change to the forecast did come with enough warning to allow some travelers to adjust their plans and come home early. Others, however, were caught on the road during the blizzard. While there were several accidents along I-70, none resulted in serious injuries. 

Swinging Temperatures 

Finally, the weather on the front end and back end of the storm was inconsistent with the such a winter phenomenon. Temperatures were in the 50’s the day before the storm. Within two days of the storm, the temperatures were back up 40’s and 50’s. For some, the blizzard provided a great reason to break out the snow toys a little early, but only to be disappointed in the snow’s quick departure. 

Snow at First Sight: The Bond Ski 6

Most people would freely suggest that James Bond films are synonymous with ski scenes, but you may be surprised to learn that of twenty-four films, only six actually contain any skiing. This may have something to do with the relatively short season for shooting, or the massive amount of disruption that a huge film crew probably cause to an alpine village. Nevertheless, for the film connoisseur when James appears on the big screen dressed to kill in his onesie, it can’t help but put a smile on your face.

We reveal the six classic Bond films with a notable ski scene…


On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)

(filmed in Murren, Switzerland)

Showcasing retro skis and skiing techniques, this scene involves Bond being chased by an army of gunmen. Having attempted to trick the evil Blofeld into leaving Switzerland in order to gain his arrest, and failing, he attempts to escape his henchman by skiing down Piz Gloria. Halfway down James loses a ski, where he then reveals his skills as a monoskier.


The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

(filmed in St.Moritz, Switzerland)

Arguably the most memorable opening sequence of any Bond film, sees James skiing down a magnificent stretch of off-piste. Needless to say it doesn’t take long for his Soviet attackers to follow suit. More of a classic ski chase scene, this showcases his full range of talents as he hits the freestyle with a reverse backflip. Eventually killing off one and escaping the rest of his pursuers Bond skis off the cliff edge revealing his famous Union Jack parachute.


For Your Eyes Only (1981)

(filmed in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy)

With Bond hitting a ski jump hill, gunmen on motorbikes and a bobsleigh track this scene has it all. Having ventured to Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Italian Dolomites to seek out Greek businessman Aristotle Kristatos, James attracts the attention of his niece Bibi, who pulls out the all the stops in seducing him. Spending time together on the slopes Bond encounters Kristatos and his men including biathlete Eric Kriegler, who seems to have super-human strength. They chase him for several minutes down the slopes, but needless to say James is always one step ahead.


A View To A Kill (1985)

(filmed in Iceland & the Swiss Alps)

In this film Bond exposes his multi-snowsports talent as he takes to the slopes first on regular skis and then on a homemade snowboard (a broken piece from a skidoo). Whilst tracking and recovering a microchip in Siberia he is chased by Soviet troops on skis and in a helicopter. Surfing the pow with ease James escapes capture and eventually takes out the helicopter with a flare in true JB style.


The World Is Not Enough (1999)

(filmed in Chamonix, France)

Travelling to Azerbaijan, Bond meets with Elektra King at the construction site for one of her oil pipelines. Whilst surveying the site from the top of a nearby mountain they are ambushed by Renard’s henchman on parahawks (a kind of skidoo with parachute attached), and a ski chase ensues. Bond strategically leads them into the trees where they inevitably meet their fate.


Spectre (2015)

(filmed in Solden, Austria)

The latest edition, ‘Spectre,’ was filmed from late 2014 and well into early 2015. Some of the shooting took place in and around the creatively designed Ice Q restaurant, with all-glass walls offering fantastic views from over 3000m. If you’re bound for Solden on a ski trip any time soon, then make sure you have your camera at the ready.

My Favorite Snow Activities

Snow isn’t just for watching. In fact, the powdery stuff’s temporality lends to an amazing slew of seasonal sports and activities. While I look forward to that first snowfall every winter, I equally anticipate the ability to walk, ski, or sled over the blanketed landscape. I mentioned that building a snowman is one of my favorite memories, but I’ve had an equally fun time participating in a range of activities which harness the power of snow. Read on, why don’t you.

Cross-Country Skiing—Nordic skiing is my favorite snow-related pastime. It combines the grace and solitude of gliding through a snow-covered landscape with the excitement and speed of a high-intensity sport. I prefer the Classic ski style, as it’s a more tranquil way to move through the snowy space. I started when I was very young—5 or 6, I think—and fell in love immediately. Though still a pricey sport, XC skis are far less expensive than their downhill counterparts, making this a pretty accessible activity. Plus, you can always rent.

Snowshoeing—I know what you’re going to say: Seriously? The most boring thing on the planet? I’m here to tell you: snowshoeing is not boring! With the right conditions, the right mindset, and the right group of people (if you prefer to do it with friends), an afternoon of snowshoeing can make for an unforgettable day in the snow. My favorite part of this activity is that it forces you to take your time. You can only move so quickly on a pair of snow shoes, which means you really have to soak in your surroundings. Go rent a pair after work and you’ll see what I mean.

Ice Fishing—Okay, so this one isn’t technically snow-related. But it’s in the same season and requires the same conditions, so I’m going to throw it in. I’ve never been one to enjoy sedentary activities, but ice fishing really changed that for me. It’s about patience and persistence—skills everyone needs (especially for getting through the winter). This is an activity I like to do with friends; drill your hole, set up a few chairs, and spend time hanging out with people you love.

Alpine Skiing—I wanted to put as much distance between Nordic and alpine skiing as possible, but the truth is: I really love this sport. I mentioned earlier that alpine skiing is a remarkably expensive sport, but you can mitigate this problem by renting for a day, week, or season. I also managed to get a great deal on Copper lift passes. There really is nothing like spending the day flying down a double-black trail, or maybe navigating a gladed area with a small group of friends.

Set Up an Office Pool to Guess the First Day of Snow

We used to do a first-day-of-snow office pool at my old job. It wasn’t a big deal, but it was one of those things that made things seem a little less work-weary a couple days out of the year. I was thinking about those office pools again this year as we get to that time in which the first snow of the year is falling in different places. I wanted to write a little bit about this experience and provide some tips for anybody out there charged with running a pool for the first day of snow.


What Counts as the First Snow of the Year?

The biggest question you need to have the answer to is what counts as the first snow of the year. You may have your own wonderfully sweet childhood memories of seeing your yard blanketed in white for the first time, but the truth across an entire region can be a lot more ambiguous. One common strategy is to set the official first snow of the year as at least one-inch of measured snowfall at a specific weather station.

We strongly recommend setting an amount of at least one inch. Trace amounts may fall and melt overnight without any really noticing. You don’t want to create a controversy, but you don’t want to announce that the pool has been won to an incredulous office staff who had no idea there was even snow in the forecast.

Schools and other organizations that are likely to cancel at least one day or event may use this for their pool, rather than the first day of measurable snow. In some places, this adds an unknown element in which unusually dry and warm winters may not see an off-day at all. This can also expand the number of dates that are plausible winners, which is nice for larger staffs. Plus, even more so than measured snow at a specific weather station, an official day off work is even less ambiguous. School office pools may also have the option of creating a secondary winner on the first day with a delayed start due to snow.


How to Run an Office Pool

Apart from the unique factors related to first-snow pools, there are also the same money collection, pool information tracking, and decision-making that comes with other types of office pools. We came across this handy chart of pros and cons for different bookkeeping and communication methods for running an office pool. You can see the original chart from Fun Office Pools here.


Pool Method Pros Cons
Paper and Pencil
  • Cheap
  • Easy for simple pools (10×10 grid)
  • Doesn’t work for complicated pools
  • Subject to errors
  • No communication to pool members
  • No automatic features
  • Labor intensive
Excel Spreadsheet
  • Cheap
  • Can handle more complicated pools
  • Flexibility on how the pool is scored
  • Labor intensive
  • No automatic features
  • No communication to pool members
  • Handles many automatic features
  • Easier on the commissioner
  • Possible cost
  • May be limited in how the pool is scored
  • May not be networked for easy pick entry
  • May not be available for the pool you want to run
  • Handles many automatic features
  • Networked – so greatly reduces the load on the commissioner
  • Easy communication with pool members
  • Possible cost (many web pools cost about $1/person)
  • May be limited in how the pool is scored
  • May not be available for the pool you want to run


Favorite Snow Scenes

This is a space for readers to submit their favorite snow scenes and memories. These don’t necessarily have to be “first time” moments, but I certainly encourage that. Think back to what you realized how magical snow was—maybe you were walking through a park on a snowy afternoon, or perhaps a hometown storm caused three consecutive snow days in seventh grade. No matter your memory, I want to hear it. If you have something to contribute, drop me a line so I can include it in the space below.


Spencer M. — I grew up in Texas, so I didn’t really experience snow until I moved north for college. I never got my driver’s license, so after years of pedestrian life, I came to abhor everything that fell from the sky; in Texas, it was often rain and hail. The first major snow I experienced was in December of 2012, and I’ll never forget it. I got up early on a Sunday to do some work on a paper. Everything outside was covered in a thick blanket of white, fluffy powder. Nobody on the quad was awake yet, and the falling snow barely made a sound. It was the most peaceful morning I‘d experienced to that point. Now, I don’t hate everything that falls from the sky… just the big, wet stuff.


Kayla H. — Growing up in Missouri, I never saw utility in snow. Sure, it was pretty sometimes, but it was mostly a nuisance. It makes the roads dangerous, walking becomes difficult, and I feel shut into my house. It wasn’t until I moved to Vermont for grad school when I finally understood what made snow amazing: skiing. I get why people without mountains hate the fluffy white stuff, but now every snowfall reminds me that skiing season is just around the corner.


Edward S. — I’ve never really liked snow, and I don’t really care for it now. I will say, though, that I appreciate its awesome power. In 2011, my hometown in Illinois was hit with close to five feet of snow during a single storm. The power was out, the roads were closed, and the school system didn’t even bother issuing a cancellation announcement—everyone just knew it was closed. I still don’t like snow, but anything that has the power to completely halt every possible movement is pretty cool in my book.

Wet Snow vs. Dry Snow—Isn’t it the Same?

If you’ve experienced snow on more than one occasion, you likely noticed that it’s never truly the same. Some snow is sticky and wet, while some is powdery and dry. But wait, isn’t snow created from water? How can it be dry? I understand the confusion, believe me. Snow is a strange thing, never falling in the exact same way. I want to try to explain some major differences in snowfall, though. The most apparent is the difference between wet and dry snow. If you’ve tried to build a snowman with the latter, or perhaps made a too-hard snowball out of the former, this will hopefully clear up some confusion.


Snow can be wet and dense or light and powdery. Surface temperature is the primary cause for these differences. When the surface temperatures are just above freezing, snow can melt slightly, which adds more moisture. The added moisture melts crystals around the edges, allowing them to stick together and become big, heavy flakes. This creates heavy, wet snow, which sticks together easily and is perfect for building snowpeople and other structures.


In contrast, light, powdery snow contains less water. Generally, around five inches of dry snow will melt to be only half an inch of water. The same amount of wet snow will melt to be around an inch of water. Powdery snow is formed when air temperatures are very cold. Dry, cold air will produce small, powdery snowflakes that don’t stick together. These are more likely to drift in windy weather, and they are less likely to cause ice build-up.


Snow is a tricky thing, and it can be difficult to anticipate the types of activities and precautions you may need to take to prepare for a large storm. The best way to anticipate the type of snow is to keep an eye on the temperature when snow is forecasted. When temperatures hang out in the mid-30s, it is likely to be heavy and wet; anything under 32 and the snow will be relatively harmless powder.