Born and raised in Santa Fe, forecaster Julien Ross knows our snow. Photograph by Stefan Wachs.
EVEN AMID DROUGHT AND LA NIÑA (a Pacific Ocean weather pattern that often delivers warmer, drier Southwestern winters), New Mexico saw record-setting snowfalls in September and October. In the latter storm, a late-season typhoon in the Pacific affected the jet stream, sending us a surprise dose of moisture. Predicting those storms requires watching big trends without losing sight of shifts in pressure systems, moisture levels, and other key ingredients for snow, says Julien Ross, a lifelong storm watcher who took meteorology courses in college. As New Mexico’s forecaster for OpenSnow, an app and website that winter sports enthusiasts use to see powder days coming, Ross makes serious work out of writing ski-specific snowfall forecasts that predict the best times to go play.
I was born and raised in Santa Fe, and now I get to write about the mountains I love so much. There’s pressure to have a good track record of successfully predicting storms. I’m looking at seven or eight different forecast models. It’s our job to not just rely on the models, but also add our own insights. It’s a beautiful thing and a frustrating thing. We’re constantly learning.
Last December, we had been tracking this storm with one to two feet of accumulation from Santa Fe to Taos. I had been stoked about this storm for days. I woke up at 5 a.m., expecting to see significant snow outside my house, and it was completely dry. It had totally busted. I was just devastated.
Then I was like, “There’s something not quite right here. Let’s stay positive, let’s stay optimistic.” I checked the webcam at 6:30 a.m., and it was puking at Ski Santa Fe—just whiteout. I threw my stuff in the car and booked it. Cars were already spinning out at Hyde Memorial State Park and getting stuck, but I was able to get through.
The storm just showed up a little late. Between 6 and 10 a.m., it snowed 16 inches of light, fluffy powder. It was one of the days of the last decade for me and a good reminder: Stay positive, stay optimistic, and go skiing. Even if the storm busts, are you ever really going to regret going up and getting some turns in? —As told to Elizabeth Miller