Two weeks to go: looking perfect

Never say never, but I can not see any circumstance right now which would lead to anything other than a picture-perfect postcard race.

I’ll go right out and say it here: there is about as close to a 100% chance that the Birkie will go off on February 22 (and the Korteloppet the day before) as there ever has been.

The last 30 days, temperature-wise, from the MRCC

The last 30 days, temperature-wise, from the MRCC

This is not, however, for atmospheric lack of trying. Much of this decade, winter has been dominated by the (scare voice) polar vortex. As the polar jet stream as weakened, cold air has spilled south to send frigid air to Birkieland and nearby. Some years have stayed cold the whole way through (2014). Some have been variable. Last year January was quite warm overall, even if the second half of the month saw several days staying well below zero. January of 2017 had seven days in Hayward with a high below 10, and this January that happened just once. This year was warmer, overall, than 2017. Yet the highest recorded temperature in January in Hayward this year was just 34, while in 2017 there was a week straight with highs above 38, and several days in the 40s.

In fact, since 1998 (before which there is a gap in record keeping in Hayward), there has been only one other year when the temperature in Hayward has stayed below 35: 2011. Despite being warmer than all but three years of the past 23, January this year stayed just cool enough to keep the snow around. Sure, it reached 34 four days in a row. But 34 doesn’t really melt snow. (Yes, I know, it it 45 earlier this week. But the snow is surviving.)

season.sdevThis year has had a zonal flow, with modified Pacific air predominating with only small blasts of arctic cold. It hasn’t been particularly wet, but there’s no snow drought, either. The snow fell early in Birkieland, and it’s stayed around. Here’s a map of snowfall in the Midwest. See that little dot in the middle of Northern Wisconsin? That’s the Birkie. (Interesting to note, the Keewenaw has seen less snowfall than normal, but the eastern UP a lot more.

So the Birkie has a foot-plus of packed base. What does the next week hold in store? All signs point to more of the same.

More of the same is good. The American model out to the Birkie shows it staying colder than it’s been, with a few days dipping below zero. The European model is a bit warmer, but still keeps Hayward below freezing. Both are reasonably dry. But that means a fast, transformed, set up course, not one the Birkie has to plow with Pisten Bullies the day before the race.

This is definitely something we can get behind!

Weather for race day? Who knows! It’s two weeks out: we can deduce some trends, and make educated guesses. But as usual, the start pen temperature at this point should be somewhere between -15 and 45. 15 above is a pretty good guess. But don’t start panic waxing too quick.

Holding pattern: Pattern holding (weather speculation)

No major chances on Friday morning. 7 days to the Korteloppet, 8 days to the Birkebeiner. Definitely in range.

Cold for the next few days but not frigid. Lows around 0, highs in the teens. The region saw a bit of snow last night, but not another dump, so the groomers should be able to handle it. The next week looks dry and cool, warming a bit later in the week, but in to the 20s during the days, so no big worries. I want to take a second to talk about how well the four-week outlook worked out: it predicted cold and moist, and we got cold and moist (well, cold and moister). Not that we can ever really trust that.

Anyway, there are some hints of some light snow on Wednesday night, but nothing the groomers can’t handle. Then for the race, there are hints of light snow during the race; the models have trended cooler and drier, so I’d be surprised if we see anything too heavy or too wet. Very likely we’re looking at cool but not cold and soft conditions. Still a week out, but things look good. I’m going to round up to say there’s a 100% chance the race is a go.

240 hours from race day: we’re within range for real Weather Speculation

Once we get to 240 hours from an event (that’s 10 days, guys), weather model resolution improves. The US, European and Canadian models all have 6 hour resolution looking out to that time, which gets us to race morning. With a lot of snow on the ground to groom (we have a podcast upcoming on that, stay tuned!) and a cold forecast, we’re not really worried about whether the race will happen, but more of what the course and weather will look like.

As of right now, here’s what we see:

  • Cool but not cold. A few nights below zero, most days in the 10s or 20s.
  • Dry. Likely little or no snowfall in the next week
  • A hint of a storm on Korteloppet Friday

The last one is interesting. All of the models are hinting at the same thing, but 10 days out, take it with several grains of salt. What it looks like right now would be temperatures peaking on Friday around 35, potentially some snow or even rain, and then a cold front sweeping through on Friday night. But it could be 40 and rainy, 20 and snowing, or 0 and clear. That’s anyone’s guess. We’ll know more in the next few days.

Weather Speculation: All signs point to yes

It’s still 18 days until race day, and the Birkie isn’t blanketed with feet upon feet of snow (although a few inches last night helped) but barring any major forecast “busts“, the Birkie should go off as planned.

The snow last night helped a lot; the thinner southern half of the trail needed some more cover and every inch helps, especially since this storm was slightly focused towards the south. Another, bigger storm hits tonight, and current predictions range from 4 to 10 inches by Friday morning. Even the low end of this range would be great, putting down a sum of nearly half a foot this week. Ten inches would be a godsend, adding a foot. (I think the lower end is more likely, but we’ll see).

More importantly, especially now that we’ve taken care of the snowfall, the longer range forecasts look very good. The next four weeks are all showing below average temperatures for Birkieland, and it’s a wide swath of cold, so we’re not really on the edge of it. The 8 to 14 day forecast is just as good: cold and moist; exactly what we’d want. There is a chance that the weekend before the race a storm will sneak a bit of sleet, freezing rain or even rain up to the race, but if we can get six more inches of snow it might be a benefit, adding to the base (it would not likely be all rain) and adding some moisture to make the trail faster. Some of the most fun Birkies of recent years, in 2009 and 2010, were skied on fast snow with some added moisture, “superhero” conditions with great glide and fast times.

Are we out of the woods completely? Of course not. This is weather forecasting, or in this case, speculation. Things can change. But all told, this is a very good place to be. In 2017, I had a “percent chance of cancelation” metric based on current conditions and future forecasts. (This starts around 10%, given that in the past 20 years, two Birkies have been canceled completely.) A week ago, I would have had it at 15%. Today, it’s probably below 5%.

Weather Speculation: Meltdown survival and cold to come

Things look good. The Birkie Trail survived the meltdown (as much as it was one) and a bit of rain/freezing rain and while it may have some thin spots, reports are that it is in good shape.

Looking ahead for the next 10 to 15 days, things look cold. That’s good on it’s own; if it doesn’t go above freezing in the next three weeks, we’ll have a good Birkie. But more importantly, it looks cold with some moisture. A couple of inches Tuesday in to Wednesday, a couple more Thursday in to Friday, and we could be in good shape. We’re not home free until we get a couple of feet of snow down on the trail, but long-range trends look good to stay cold at least through race day.

Starting later this week the medium-range models will start pushing out to Race Day and Weather Speculation will get much more involved.

Weather Speculation: Can we get through next week?

The weeklies still look good. But after near-all-time-record cold (-56 in Minnesota, only -33 in Hayward) temperatures will moderate nearly 100 degrees in the next week. By the end of the weekend, it will be pushing towards 40 in Hayward. 40 is fine. 40 and rain is … less fine. Sunday and Monday are still out, it could be 40 and dry, and then cool down and snow a bit. That would be fine. The snowpack and ground will be so cold that a little warmth probably won’t penetrate the snowpack without significant wind. A tiny bit of 35˚ rain is probably fine. 40 and pouring is not so good. So hope for the best, since if we can get over this hump things look better for a while. If it’s bad, though, at least there’s some time before race day.

If nothing else, the cold snap has probably put another few inches of ice on Lake Hayward.

Sounds of the Birkie: Please Contribute!

This year, in addition to recording audio for a podcast myself, I’d like to see if we can crowdsource a podcast: Sounds of the Birkie. But I need your help! As you ski, or cheer, or volunteer, take out your phone and record a sound file. It can be a short interview, it can be a poem, it can be the sound of cowbells or drums or spectators or skiers. We’re looking for short clips: 15 seconds to 2 minutes (at most, although multiple files are fine). We’ll then stitch them together in to a sounds of the Birkie podcast, and everyone who contributes will get some sweet swag (a lie, we have nothing).

Details: if you have an iPhone, it’s easy, just open the Voice Memo app and hit record (it’s usually hidden in utilities with the alarm clock and such). If you have an Android, you’ll probably have to download an app, preferably one which can save files as .mp3s. Once you have them, save them and send them to And thanks!

(Thursday weather speculation: 3-6″ of snow tonight, perhaps on the high end, so a soft Korteloppet, but warm/dense enough snow it should pack well, still I’d expect a pretty soft Birkie. A pretty perfect Birkie. Snow starts Saturday after the race; there may be more than a foot of new snow by Sunday morning. Perfection!)

Weather speculation: Let the modeling begin!

We’re 10 days out from the Birkie now which means … we have three models worth of out output—8 model runs per day!—to obsess over.

But there’s not that much to obsess over since they’re agreeing pretty well on the following:

Snow next week. Sunday-Tuesday. Not a huge blizzard, but several inches, from 4 to 6 inches on the Euro, 6 to 8 inches on the GFS and 16-24 inches on the Canadian. Uh, that would be a blizzard. But that’s the outlier. Still, expect some fresh snow.

Cold after the snow. Not frigid, but not above freezing. The models have highs in the teens and lows around zero next week, so the snow should set up well.

Milder for race day. But not above freezing. The models have Friday and Saturday both with lows between 0 and 10 and highs in the 20s. One puts it to freezing by Saturday afternoon after a cold morning. Perfect weather, if you ask me!

So get started selecting your skis (probably a soft pair with a cold grind), waxing and obsessing over everything, weather included.

And get that fever!

Hayward, we’re looking pretty good

10 days to the Birkie.

In 2017, we posted that we had a problem. And we did.

This year? All systems appear to be go. There’s snow on the trail. The warmest day, today, might hit 40˚ in Hayward, but it will be dry, so the snow won’t get washed away. Plus, it was 17˚ last night and will be 20 tonight, so the snowpack will retain the cold through the day. The top might slush up a bit, but it will refreeze tonight, ready to till away. Six hours above freezing won’t kill the race. Last year, the temperature was above freezing for 130 hours during the week before the race. For 64 of those, it was above 45. The numbers this year will likely be closer to 12 and 0. That we can survive.

So it’s warm (but not too warm) today, then cooler tomorrow, a little warmer this weekend (towards freezing, but maybe not above) and the cooler early next week. And then it gets interesting. But good interesting! The models seem to want to spin up a storm along the jet stream south and west of Hayward. Some models have the storm grazing Hayward, but some have a more direct hit. There’s an outside chance a foot of snow could fall next Monday and Tuesday. More likely it will be three or four inches. But that’s icing on the cake, since temperatures look to stay low enough afterwards it will be a powdery race on Saturday.

Nothing is set in stone. There’s still a chance the jet stream buckles and the storm surges warm air north (while it doesn’t seem likely, it did show up on one model run yesterday). But for being 10 days out, I’m much happier where we are this year than where we were in 2017. Or 2016. I’m going to go out on a limb (but really not too far): best Birkie conditions since 2015.

See you in Cable.

Coming in to range …

One year ago, we posted that no news wasn’t good news. The models looked bad, and the outcome was worse. The skiing on the Birkie trail was great, but then the meltdown occurred. 13 days later, the race was kaput.

This year looks better. There’s good base; similar to last year. Not deep, but not scratchy. But the weather looks far better. Certainly not perfect: it will get above freezing at least once in the next two weeks, and may crack 40. But it should be a dry warmth, so it won’t be a warm rain washing away the base. And any warm temperatures should only last a few hours and be bracketed by cold temperatures, so the snow should retain cold temperatures in the base during the warm-up, and then will refreeze quickly afterwards. If it’s cloudy and 36˚, the snow may not even transform, as the retained thermodynamics keep the surface layer near the snow cold against the warm air above.

Now, things can change. At this point last year we thought the base might survive, and then temperatures went up. But right now, models show the temperature barely touching 40, with no rain. Compared to last year, that’s a pretty good place to be.