How Do I Track Winter Storms This Winter?

5 ways to ensure you land plenty of powder days this season

Dec 1, 2015
Outside Magazine

Schaffer scored this 14-foot storm in Chile with a few key tricks.    Photo: Grayson Schaffer


Outside senior editor and staff writer Grayson Schaffer is the best powder hunter I know. He’s one of those guys who’s always in the right place at the right time when the snow starts falling. For example, he flew down to Chile this summer to catch a 14-foot storm and was right in the middle of this last El Niño storm that dumped three feet of snow on Santa Fe. He’s also chased tornados, so he knows a thing or two about meteorology. We asked him for his top five weather-tracking tips to ensure you follow the storms like he does. 

Follow the Social Media Herd

Schaffer regularly checks Unofficial Networks’ Facebook feed to see what’s brewing. “When there is a significant forecast seven days out, they are pretty good about posting that with links to places where you can see where that information is coming from,” he says. He’s also watching what other skiers are saying on Facebook. For example, he used pro skier Chris Davenport’s Facebook feed to confirm that the 14-foot storm in Chile was going to materialize.

Compare Information from Multiple Weather Websites

Schaffer likes Weather Underground for general forecasts and Open Snow for mountain range forecasts. When he’s on these sites, he’s paying attention to long-term percentage predictions. If the snow percentages consistently drop as the storm moves closer, then the storm will likely fizzle out. If they stay strong as the storm gets closer, it’s time to pack your bags. 

Check News Headlines Downwind

In New Mexico, Schaffer usually follows Southern California news reports because most storms moving through that part of the state eventually hit the Land of Enchantment. “In the Southwest, any time the newspaper headlines talk about Los Angeles mudslides or any kind of flooding along the Southern California coast, that is when you know, two or three days later, you are going to get it,” Schaffer says.

Download the RadarScope App

To find out where it’s snowing hardest within a storm (should we go to Squaw Valley or Kirkwood? Aspen or Vail?), Schaffer suggests using the RadarScope iPhone app. “That is probably the best iPhone app for real-time weather radar,” he says. “When I wrote the story about that tornado in Oklahoma, all of those storm chasers used the RadarScope app.”

Learn Some Basic Meteorology 

“One of the most important things is to get obsessed with it,” Schaffer says. If you learn how to read wind charts and use other basic meteorology tools like a barometer, you’ll be able to decipher the weather forecast more closely and tell weather the storm is really going to land in the place you want to ski.

Take Chances

Following the weather “is kind of like playing the stock market,” Schaffer says. You have to study up, but you also have to take chances. If he thinks a storm is likely to materialize, he commits so he can get out front. Sometimes he gets skunked, but more often it pays off.  “If you are booking plane tickets or driving overnight to try to make it ahead of storms, you are definitely going to miss some. But you’re going to miss them all if you never try,” Schaffer says.

Filed To: Gear Guy, Skiing

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