It started to snow in the Italian Piedmont early this morning. An active storm on the Mediterranean determines the weather in the Italian Piedmont and the resorts on the border of Italy and France in the next 72 hours. You can expect between 50 and 150 cm of fresh snow, with a snow line that's slowly climbing. This storm will bring us great powder days on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. There's a chance that the northern Alps will get some snow around Christmas, but the amounts and the snowline are still big question marks. In this forecast:
The last significant snowfall in the Alps was about three weeks ago. A monster storm dumped between 2 to 4 meters of snow in the high alpine caused floodings in northern Italy. And now it's snowing again in the Piedmont. Check out the radar image from early this morning below. It was already snowing heavily in the mountains above Genoa. The precipitation is coming down as rain (green) at the coast, but it starts to snow when you leave the Mediterranean coast. The snow line fluctuates between 100 and 300 meters above sea level, so only a short drive into the mountains will take you into a white landscape.
This front, which is hanging around in the Po-Valley right now, will be pushed against the Alps by the end of Monday morning (thanks to that eastsoutheast current) and that part of the Alps will get hammered.
As often on the southern side of the Alps, such a storm doesn't pass quietly. It's no different this time. The 'retour d'est' or 'Genoa Low' has always been an eclectic type of storm. They come in when they feel like it, are full of surprises and bring a lot of snow in a short time. Same story for this storm. The moisture from the Mediterranean Sea and the Adriatic Sea combined with the moisture from the Po-Valley is being bashed against the Alps the next couple of hours. This moiture is forced to climb from the Po-Valley to peaks like the Mont Viso, the Gran Paradiso and Monte Rosa in just twenty kilometers. There's so much energy involved that the immense drop of temperature results in a lot of snow. Especially the facts that the Mediterranean Sea is still relatively warm and the upper air at the start of the storm is pretty cold results in cold powder coming down on Monday.
It's snowing heavily between today and Wednesday evening. You can expect half a meter of snow (on average) to come down at 2000 meters. The higher you get, the more snow will fall.
But once the front passes the highest peaks of the Alps, there won't be that much snow coming down anymore. The air is dropping, the clouds slowly dissolve, the storm isn't pushed against the mountains anymore and it stops snowing. It is the explanation why it snows heavily on the peak of the Punta Bagna in Valfréjus, but there's no snowfall in the village during a retour d'est. It's for the same reason that you can take the Fréjus Tunnel and can drive from no precipitation at all at the French side (Modane) to heavy snowfall on the Italian side (Bardonecchia). Such examples show that the difference between the promised powder land and cosmetic white lines can be a mere 15 kilometers.
The same thing will happen around the Monte Rosa during this dump. Zermatt is situated in the shadow of the storm. The top of the Klein Matterhorn is red on our snow maps, but there's significantly less snow coming down in the valley compared with what's coming fown on the Italian side. Same story for the Monte Rosa ski area, where Alagna in the east gets considerably more snow than Champoluc. And this effect occurs in more resorts on the border with Italy in the next 72 hours. Abriès in the Queyras will get a lot of snow, while Ceillac (slightly more west in the Queyras) will get less snow.
As we (unfortunately) often see on the southern side of the Alps the snow line rises slowly during the dump. The snow line will be around 100-300 meters on Monday, but it will end up around 1200 meters in the south and 1600 meters in the north of the Piedmont by the end of the dump on Wednesday. Dry snow will come down above 1800 meters. This means that the snow below 1500-1900 meters will get heavier on Wednesday. Fortunately the sun will come out pretty soon. The night of Wednesday to Thursday will be clear and this gives the snowpack the opportunity to radiate its moisture, so you can expect Thursday and Friday to be great days. Fresh powder, sun, dry air (as in low humidity) and not that crowded yet in the resorts.
Tuesday will be the day with the most fresh snow coming down, it will snow lightly on Wednesday, with the possibility of the sun coming out during the day. Because the clouds aren't pushed against the Alps anymore it's possible that the temperature will rise in those places where the sun comes out. Nevertheless you can ride great powder on Wednesday. Thursday will be even better. After the nocturnal radiation and low temperatures Thursday will be the day to ride powder above 1800 meters. And because the trees in the Piedmont go up to 2200 meters you can even do some treeruns!
Friday will be a beautiful day again with lots of sun and the urge to ride those parts of the mountain that are still untracked will increase. Please keep in mind that a lot of surface hoar developed on northern faces the last couple of weeks or that the wind transported a lot of snow, hardening the snowpack. Those are perfect sliding layers for avalanches. Therefore:
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Some snow came down on the north side of the Alps. It wasn't much, around 1-5 cm. That resulted in some nice webcam images, but that's basically it. The northern Alps still need a lot of snow.
In addition, these small dumps aren't good for the snowpack. Many thin layers of snow results in an unstable snowpack. It is waiting for the big dumps before we can ride powder on the north side of the Alps. And those big dumps aren't visible on the maps right now. There's a little storm in the forecast right after Christmas, but unfortunately the jet stream is too far north and that means that the air temperature is too high. That Christmas storm should bring a cold front to the Alps and snow deep into the valleys, but those amounts of snow aren't visible on the maps yet.
It's time to start dancing again for the northern Alps. But if want to ride powder, you'd better jump in your car and drive to the Piedmont. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday will be great days. If you don't live in northwest of Italy, here's how to get there:
And if that sounds like an adventure, don't hesitate and drop your questions in the comments. There's no such thing as a powder roadtrip! More details tomorrow!
Stay stoked. Morris