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Welcome Snow Blankets the West

Weather: Ski resorts in Utah and Nevada get up to 3 feet. Until now, the area had been unusually warm and dry.

November 24, 2001|From Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — A series of storms dumped up to 3 feet of snow on ski resorts in Utah and Nevada this week, laying down a base at Olympic venues and brightening prospects for Thanksgiving weekend opening.

"This is a good, wet storm," said Pete Wilensky, a National Weather Service forecaster in Salt Lake City. "Cold air is finally coming in. It looks like we're going to get sort of wintery."

Whether it will be enough to offset a slow start to the snow season remains debatable.

That slow beginning, coupled with persistent drought in some parts of the West, has strained businesses throughout the region that rely on the white stuff and the moisture it supplies.

Park City Mountain Resort, where many events will be held during the Olympics in February, got 2 feet of snow and will open today. A foot fell at Snowbasin, where preparations are underway for alpine events.

"We still don't have an opening date," said Snowbasin guest services manager Kevin Stauffer. "But the snow gods and colder temperatures mean our snow-making is fired up."

Snow also fell in the Colorado mountains Thursday as Vail opened for the season. Forecasters said more than a foot could fall by today in some places, good news in a state where warm weather had forced World Cup officials to cancel or reschedule ski races earlier this week.

More than 2 feet of snow fell in the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado, closing at least one pass Friday. Aspen, which lost some World Cup events to Copper Mountain, received about 10 inches.

Outside Salt Lake City, the Alta ski area received 40 inches of snow in three days.

Snow also fell at Idaho's Sun Valley resort, where warm weather had forced officials to put off a Thanksgiving opening. Up to 6 inches was reported in northern Idaho and more was possible over the weekend.

Sierra ski resorts used a little snow and a lot of snow-making to open a handful of runs in time for the holiday weekend as they anticipated the week's second storm today.

The ski resorts welcomed the advent of snow, but many Western businesses found conditions have made for tough sledding.

When the snow did begin falling, Lee Bolin was golfing in Florida--his Colorado hunting outfit shut down after a dismal season. Kills were off 30%, thanks to an unusually warm and dry fall that kept the elk in hiding and his clients scouting in shirt sleeves.

"We generally get a couple of snows in September, but this year we didn't get any. In November it's on the ground all the time," said Bolin, a Colorado Springs-based outfitter. "When we pulled out a week ago, it was 65 degrees and we were working with no shirts on. That is not good."

Ski resorts in Montana, Utah and Colorado failed to make their traditional Thanksgiving Day openings because of the lack of snowfall and inability to make snow due to warm temperatures.

Some Idaho outfitters canceled fall float and fish trips because the rivers were low, while wheat farmers in Oregon, suffering from three consecutive years of drought, are praying for rain or snow to insulate the winter wheat crop and replenish the parched soil.

"I'll often hear someone say, 'Ugh, it's raining again' or 'It's cloudy again,' and my response is, 'Thank God it's raining!' " said Tammy Dennee, executive director of the Oregon Wheat Growers League. "Our growers have been severely damaged by these years of drought. We're glad to see those raindrops come down, but we're still anxiously awaiting the arrival of snow."

Until the Thanksgiving week storm, nearly the entire West saw above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation in October and most of November, said Kelly Redmond, a climatologist at the Western Regional Climate Center.

In parts of Montana, temperatures that should have been in the 30s soared into the 50s. Until a few days ago, it was the warmest November in the Colorado Rockies since 1979. Even always-balmy Phoenix was extra balmy this fall: It hit a record 98 degrees on Oct. 27.

By mid-November, no more than 5 inches of snow covered the Sierra Nevada near Lake Tahoe. There is usually 4 to 10 inches, Redmond said. West Yellowstone, Mont., had just 0.8 of an inch of snowpack compared with the 2.8-inch average for this time of year.

Experts blame factors from global warming and the La Nina phenomenon, which brings warmer than usual weather to the West, to a long-term warming of the world's oceans. While it's the beginning of the winter season, some forecasts call for the warm, dry trend to persist.

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