Warmest autumn on record

Both l’Alpe d’Huez and les Deux Alpes will open their ski areas this weekend although conditions are described as “more like summer skiing” with winter already a month late. Records were broken yesterday, although they only broke the records set the day before. Apart from a brief period at the start of November autumn has been much hotter and drier than average, the hottest on record in France.

alpe d'huez
l’Alpe d’Huez

The freak weather has also been blamed for destabilizing the cliffs above the RN91 which connects the resorts of la Grave, les Deux Alpes and l’Alpe d’Huez with Grenoble. 100,000 meters cubed of rocks avalanched off the mountains above Séchilienne last Thursday.

Héléna Hopital at les Deux Alpes says that the snowfall last week has resisted the warm foehn wind and that it will be possible to ski to 2600 meters and the 1st leg of the cable car. The resort is expecting a big influx of Spanish tourists who are taking their Christmas holidays. At l’Alpe d’Huez the freezing level was around the summit of the Pic Blanc, the top of the resort’s ski slopes. With barely a cloud in the sky, hikers were out in t-shirts and shorts, the scene was more like spring than the start of the winter season. The resort still has 60cm of snow on the Sarenne. The resort will decide on the day which runs it can open. Off-piste is still pretty much a no-no, at glacier level great caution is required as ice is present and crevasses are largely open, further down there is little base.

This weekend may see some snow but at what level? Forecasts vary between 1000 and 2500 meters. In the Haute-Savoie the warm weather has meant that snow canons have been silent. La Clusaz will open on the weekend before Christmas, the resort is not unhappy; the clement weather has enabled the lift company to finish a number of projects. In the Étale sector they have already completed the foundations for two new ski lifts. At Flaine temperatures crept into double figures at resort level yesterday. The ski resort was the first to install snow canons in France. The resort is scheduled to open on the 9th of December and the resort director says all it will take is some snowfall and cold weather to get things up and running.

snow canon

Most of the Hautes-Alpes resorts installed snow canons following the disastrous winter of 1989 when the first real snows only came in February. The dry climate enables the department’s ski resorts to produce snow even when the temperature is above zero. Normally “wet-bulb” temperatures need to be at least -2° to make snow. But with 20% humidity its possible to make snow at +3° with the aid of a nucleating agent such as Snomax. However the use of such nucleates, in the case of Snomax, is controversial. Studies on the effects on the environment are limited and the use is subject to a moratorium since 2005.

Posted by davidof on Tuesday, 28 November, 2006 at 11:18 PM

In a press release Météo France has announced that the autumn was 2.9 degrees above average making it the hottest since 1950. Much hotter than those of 2005 and 2000. November came in like a lion with a cold snap that caused problems for the electricity supply in the east of France and went out like a lamb with temperatures in excess of 20 °C over the southern half of the country. This trend looks set to continue into the first week of December.

Twitchers have also noticed a lack of migratory birds this autumn. They have stayed in their summer nesting grounds in the North of Europe where they have found rich pickings. Raspberries were still being harvested in Northumberland yesterday. Other mammals have not gone into hibernation. All could be vulnerable if there is a cold snap. Ski resorts which traditionally open for the start of the month have postponed for at least a week. Unable to produce even artificial snow in the warm temperatures although Pyrenean resort Piau does hope to open some limited skiing on the 6th and both l’Alpe d’Huez and les Deux Alpes will open tomorrow.

Posted by davidof on  Friday, 01 December, 2006  at 11:47 PM

A small update on the weather. It should snow a bit down to around 1700 meters over the course of Monday with some very strong winds from the south. These will move to the north then west over the next five days with further fresh snow on Wednesday to quite low altitudes and continuing flurries to the weekend. This should improve the conditions in the mountains significantly even if temperature remain those of mid-October.

The fresh wind will create some accumulations. Although the weather has remained warm expect some slabs on weak layers around the 2500meter + level on north west through to eastern aspects.

Posted by davidof on  Sunday, 03 December, 2006  at 11:07 PM
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