Winter storm hits Yellowstone and Jackson Hole

Summer stretched for 117 days in Jackson Hole — between the last snow of spring on June 9 and the wet snow that hit the valley on Thursday and even forced Yellowstone National Park to close roads temporarily.

While strict calendar adherents assert the season starts at the summer solstice and ends with the fall equinox, in Teton County, cold, frozen flakes falling from heaven are a more tangible sign of changing seasons.

The storm that brought a quick end to a glorious summer and fall forced Yellowstone officials Thursday afternoon to close the South Entrance, Craig Pass between Old Faithful and West Thumb and Beartooth Pass outside of the Northeast Entrance.

Projected opening times or dates had not been established Thursday afternoon, and travelers were advised to call the park’s 24-hour road information line — 307-344-2117 — for updates.

Jim Woodmencey, who operates the site, forecast the storm that came from the Pacific and dumped snow on the Sierra Nevada in California. On Thursday, the system was generating snow in Salt Lake City, a relatively early occurrence for the community situated 4,226 feet above sea level, the meteorologist said.

“For this time of year, it is an unusually cold storm,” Woodmencey said.

While the storm may have been unseasonable in Utah, in Jackson Hole it wasn’t out of the norm, Woodmencey said. Last year, snow came in mid-October and continued to pound the valley through Christmas.

A repeat of that pattern isn’t likely this fall, noted Woodmencey, who predicted there would be a few more days when temperatures will rise into the 60s in the upcoming weeks.

Fall snow, while exciting for skiers, is not necessarily good for establishing a stable snowpack, Woodmencey said. If early snows sit in the mountains and rot under cold and dry conditions, they can create potentially dangerous sliding surfaces.

“In general, it is never a good scenario to see snow this early — unless it continues to snow,” Woodmencey said.

Early snow can be good for ski areas. People tend to go to the Internet and look at their favorite resorts when winter rears its head in the West.

“We start to get hits when the weather changes,” Jackson Hole Mountain Resort President Jerry Blann said. Blann noted early season pass sales have been “very positive.”

Conditions are pointing to a repeat of last year’s La Nina winter, although some suspect it won’t be as severe. Ample winter and spring snows bombarded the valley into June, shortening the front end of summer.

Still, having nearly four snowless months is relatively good. In 1993, snow fell on July 4 and returned as school began.

Some people refer to 1993 as the year summer never happened.

Looking back over the just-concluded season, Woodmencey said there was a nice blend of conditions from July to September.

Temperatures rose into the 80s many days, he said. There were just enough thunderstorms to keep the dust down, and smoke from forest fires was tolerable, the meteorologist said.

“It was beautiful,” he said.

While some may be unwilling to let go of the warm weather, hardcore Jackson residents will push the season.

If there are four months without snow in Jackson Hole, that means eight months will feature the white stuff.

On Thursday, Woodmencey had a prediction for Friday morning.

“Someone will be skiing Teton Pass,” he said.

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