Go deep on snow depth data: New online tool puts Pacific NW mountain totals in historic context

A snowboarder rides a chairlift at the Summit at Snoqualmie ski area east of Seattle earlier this month. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

As the Seattle area braces for snow later this week, the mountains around the Pacific Northwest have already seen sizable accumulations this year. Tracking that snow depth has been made a bit easier thanks to a new online tool developed by the University of Washington and the Northwest Avalanche Center.

The interactive mountain snow depth tool allows users to see how current snow depth compares to past years at nine locations in Washington and two in Oregon. The tool, built with support from Seattle data visualization company Tableau, is free to use on the Office of the Washington State Climatologist’s website.

According to UW news, the new effort replaces a tool that was built a decade ago using NWAC snow depth data, displayed in a simple graphic.

“When that display wasn’t working, that’s the one where we would get emails from ski enthusiasts or other meteorologists or climatologists,” said Karin Bumbaco, a UW research scientist who is the assistant state climatologist. “To us that was a good sign that we should rebuild it,” she told UW News.

The seasonal view shows the current winter’s snow depth measurements at all locations up to Feb. 1, 2021. Mt. Baker has the deepest snow (orange line), with Paradise at Mt. Rainier (green line) in second place. Most of the 11 locations are still accumulating snow depth. (Graphic via Northwest Avalanche Center/Washington State Climatologist/Tableau)

The new version displays more data and is a fun way to go deep on snow depth data from years past. For instance, Mt. Baker’s famously epic snow seasons are illustrated by extra sharp spikes in the data — especially when looking back at 1999. That year, Baker reached a record depth of 311 inches of snow on April 1. Snowboarder magazine called the “unfathomable” amount of snow “too much of a good thing.”

According to the tool, a Feb. 1 measurement for Baker shows the mountain at 155 inches so far this year — 32 inches above its average, measured from 1927 until now. Most of the 11 stations are now measuring slightly above-normal snow depth.

Paradise on Mount Rainier is the only other site with a measurement station dating back to 1927. Measurements go back to 1974 for the two most recent stations, at Mount Hood Meadows and Timberline in Oregon.

The Northwest Avalanche Center collects data in order to monitor the risk of avalanches to roadways and people using the mountains for winter activities. Data are entered 12 times a year, on the 1st and the 15th of each month, during the monitoring season from Nov. 15 to May 1.

The new tool complements a previous UW data visualization effort looking at long-term weather trends.

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