Storm nudges Jackson toward snowiest month record

February 27, 2019

Even from a California vacation visiting his mother, meteorologist Jim Woodmencey plans to hop online today and Thursday to check the town of Jackson’s daily snow totals.

The reason is because February is inching toward the snowiest month in Jackson ever — if it’s not already there.

Town residents awoke Tuesday to 51.8 inches of snowfall on the month, just 4.2 inches shy of the record high.

“Let’s just say town will go down as the snowiest month on record, breaking the previous monthly snowfall record, which was established in January of 1969,” Woodmencey said. “It’s kind of like betting on the score of the Superbowl, like the over/under. I’m going to bet that we’ll go over 56 inches.”

The record snow could also produce record-size avalanches.

A line in the Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center’s Tuesday morning advisory said destructive slides at high elevations could break from crowns with depths of 8 to 16 feet. It wasn’t a typo.

When the clouds broke after the previous storm cycle passed over, there were avalanche crowns in the southern Teton Range that measured 8 to 10 feet deep. A few days ago, when Jackson Hole Mountain Resort patrollers set off explosive charges on the Rendezvous Peak’s north ridge, large avalanches produced crowns estimated at 12 to 14 feet deep. Since then at least 4 feet of snow has come down containing at least 3.5 inches of water.

“That’s the math behind it,” Avalanche Center Director Bob Comey said. “I’ve never said anything like that before, those depths. You go into our historic avalanche database and you can’t find them either.”

“It is a possibility,” he said of a 16-foot crown being left behind. “You could call it a mythological beast.”

With visibility limited and access to popular backcountry skiing sites largely cut off Tuesday, reports of new slides were minimal. Once the storm clears, however, avalanche experts will be able to ascertain if historic slide paths went big.

“We do have old persistent layers that are really deep,” Comey said. “Is this enough weight to make something go? If one of them does get triggered, because of all the loading, it could run a very long distance. It could take out mature trees and redefine the slide path.”

The snowfall, potential for historic avalanches and dearth of manpower prompted Grand Teton National Park to close backcountry gates accessible from Jackson Hole Mountain Resort late Monday (see story on page 8).

Access to and through the park has been limited, and as of Tuesday afternoon the only wintertime north-to-south throughway in the valley had been severed since noon Sunday.

“The highway was totally closed all day, and there’s no opening in sight,” Teton Park spokeswoman Denise Germann said.

Attempts to plow the road aren’t being made, though there’s a possibility that road maintenance crews will try to take it on Wednesday morning.

“When conditions prove unsafe for our employees,” Germann said, “we’ll take them out of harm’s way as well as the public out of harm’s way and close the road.”

Roads in other parts of the park have also closed at times during the ongoing storm cycle.

Teton Park Road to the trailhead at Bradley and Taggart lakes was snowed in much of Monday but reopened Tuesday.

Moose-Wilson Road’s north end remains unplowed.

The Gros Ventre Road to Kelly has stayed open throughout, though with “no unnecessary travel” advisories, and the same goes for the stretch of park road between Moran and Flagg Ranch.

The arms have come down, blocking Highway 22 over Teton Pass intermittently, and the closures have canceled commuter bus service to Teton Valley, Idaho.

The 4.2 inches needed to break the town’s record for snowiest month must fall by Thursday morning to count. Daily readings at the National Weather Service station are taken in the mornings. Snow that falls Thursday afternoon will count toward March.

Woodmencey won’t be leaning on the volunteer who checks the snowfall gauge behind the Jackson Hole/Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center to swing by any later than usual.

“I want it to be an honest record,” he said.

If anything it’s warm temperatures that will hurt the chance at a new monthly snowfall record for Jackson. The station is checked once a day, and if it’s a warm day it can compact and melt what’s in the gauge from a handful of inches down to a couple or less, Woodmencey said.

One record that’s unlikely to fall is most monthly snowfall ever logged at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

The all-time high came in December 1996, when 225 inches were recorded over the course of the month. Not including what fell Tuesday, the same Rendezvous Bowl gauge had detected 164 inches so far in February 2019, Woodmencey said.

“That’s so far out there ahead of any other record,” he said. “Right now this February is the second snowiest.”