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.

Things are looking blue (but that’s good)

There are several long-range forecast models, and none of them are particularly accurate. However, last year’s CFS weekly climate model, for better or for worse, nailed the forecast at this juncture four weeks before the race (our first disconcerting post was on Feb 2 but the models showed sustained warmth on Jan 29). So we’re four weeks out from the race (actually a bit less) and the models look one whole heck of a lot better. At this lead time a year ago, here’s what the models looked like:

[Weather nerd trigger warning: these maps are from 2017]

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 11.22.58 AM

That brown was not good at all. The Birkie was in the middle of a continent-wide high temperature anomaly which would up with temperatures in the 50s for several days, melting down the Birkie’s base and scuttling the race (yeah, I know we all remember that too well). And it would only get worse.

This year? It’s better. The ugly browns are mostly gone from the eastern two-thirds of the country, with greens and blues in their place. Greens and blues are colder than normal, and colder than normal doesn’t melt snow.

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 11.25.47 AM

Now it’s not all perfect. The base is rather thin and there doesn’t seem to be any big snow on the horizon. I’d feel much better looking at these maps if the ridge (warmth) out west was muted a bit—that can slide around—and if there was a foot more snow on the ground. But where we are sitting right now looks a whole heck of a lot better than last year. Things can, and will, change, but if the next week holds serve, we will probably won’t be talking cancelation.


The trend is our … friend? (Cancelation: 30%)

Quick late evening post. The GFS and CMC model runs have come in (I really should post a glossary!) and both are pretty direct hits on Birkieland. The GFS is kind of perfect, it starts snow on Thursday evening and drops nearly two feet by Saturday morning. The Canadian is a bit later and a bit lighter, but still puts down nearly a foot by Birkie o’clock.

Based on this, and how confident Ben Popp is of the base in our podcast, I’m lowering the proprietary-calculation cancelation number to 30%.

(And wouldn’t it be odd if, after stressing out for weeks about the snow, we skied the Birkie on a foot of fresh powder in 10˚ temperatures with whipping winds?)

Screen Shot 2017-02-17 at 11.55.21 PM

Screen Shot 2017-02-17 at 11.55.47 PM

Weather/Cancellation Speculation: Odds rise to 27%

Yesterday we calculated the odds of a Birkie full cancelation at 20%. However, the most recent model runs have not been great, so I’m bumping the odds of a canceled Birkie to 26%.

Basically, I’m keeping other odds equal (odds of the snow not melting, the snow melting south of OO, and the course being too bare to ski) but pulling the chance of a snowstorm saving out skin down to 33%: or one in three. It seems we’ll have to thread the needle. To continue with yesterday’s football analogy: think about this as kicking a 50 yard field goal. There are basically four things—other than a block—that could happen. The kick could sail through the uprights: that’s the foot of snow on Friday. It could go wide left, which would be the storm going too far north and it raining in Hayward. Or it could go wide right, and the storm could miss the northland all together. Or it could fall short, which would be the storm taking longer to get to Hayward and not delivering snow in time.

Several of the most recent model runs have been short and left. The European model actually improved: 8″ of snow on Friday morning (so a nice kick through the uprights). But the Canadian and American models both shifted north and slowed down, meaning a sloppy Friday and maybe some snow on Friday night. That would be iffy for a race.

But nothing is set in stone. Yesterday, the models, if they were missing, were shaded right. So this may be a trend, or there may be some reversion to the mean coming up. We’re still a week away from the race, so we have several more model runs to hope that our storm will save us. Or we may see it move or disappear, a potential coup de grâce for our hopes of a tenth straight full-course Birkie.

The one thing that poor weather is good for? site visits. The past two days have been the busiest days on this site in February in its history. So, thanks for reading, I guess.


Weather Speculation: Thursday evening update

There have been years where the weather speculation thread here has been pretty benign. This is not one of those years. For the first time since 2007, we have the distinct possibility that the race could be materially affected by weather. So here’s a quick recap of where we stand a week out:

  • We know it’s going to get warm. The GFS model puts the high temperatures for the next six days at 47, 48, 49, 53, 55, 44; the Euro at 46, 46, 48, 46, 52, 36. Both hint at some rain on Monday. None of this is good: this is enough heat to eat away at the snow base, which is already below average (if there were two feet of snow, it would be fine, but there isn’t).
  • The base may survive. It may not. This is really hard to forecast. Slight differences in cloud cover at different times of day, for instance, can make a big difference. This is really a “hope for the best” type of situation.
  • There is the potential for a storm next Thursday and Friday. This could be a true Birkie Miracle if it pans out. There are eight long range model runs a day (four GFS, two each from the Canadian and Euro Model) and about 75% of them are showing at least 6″ of snow. (The last several model runs show 10, 8, 11, 1, 16, 7, 5 inches.) There’s even some climatology support: frequently warm spells in the Upper Midwest spawn “panhandle hook” type storms. But this is a long way out, and models are very volatile at this length. The signal is very strong: it’s rare to have such consistency between models and over model runs. (In fact, the “misses” have still shown the storm, but had it pushed south. Every model run for three days has shown the same storm.) But there are no guarantees here. [Update: the latest GFS occludes the storm in Iowa, possibly keeping the Birkie in a warmer sector, but maybe still drops enough snow to get by. It’s still there, so that’s good, I guess. More in the morning.]
8" of snow by 7 a.m. on Saturday. Not the best we've seen, but we'd take it.

8″ of snow by 7 a.m. on Saturday. Not the best we’ve seen, but we’d take it.

So what does this mean? It means the Birkie could be canceled. I won’t sugarcoat that. Here is my current prediction. First, I’d say there’s a 50% chance this storm materializes and we get enough snow next Friday that it doesn’t really matter if some hills burn out because there’s 6+ inches of new snow to ski on. That would be nice. This is a really high percentage guess for a storm, but it’s rare to see such consistency on the models. If the storm doesn’t materialize, I’d say there’s about a 20% chance that enough snow survives to ski a full course. Another 10% that the course might have to be ended or turned at OO (and I have no idea what this would mean for the Kortelopet). And a 20% chance the race is canceled.

You never want to place so many of your eggs in the basket of “I hope model runs seven days out verify.” This is very risky business. But that’s where we are right now. Our second-best hope is that the upcoming thaw doesn’t melt the trail. And our best hope is for a last-second miracle snowstorm.

To put it another way: it’s the middle of the third quarter and we’re down 28-3. The question is: do we have Tom Brady playing QB? (Yes, I’m an unapologetic Patriots fan. Deal with it.)

Hayward, we have a problem

It’s going to be warm in the next week. Real warm. Mid-40s warm. If there was two feet of base, it would be less of a concern, but snowfall has been somewhat low this year in the Northwoods, and this is the kind of heat which could burn down some south-facing hills to grass. Grass is not good for skiing.

Right now, depending on which model you trust, we’re looking at four or five days in the 40s, potentially topping 50˚ on one or two. The saving grace may be that it won’t rain, which can quickly erode the base: dew points should stay low enough that snow loss will be mostly by sublimation, and the base and ground may keep too much from melting. (It also minimizes runoff which could make the ice on Lake Hayward unsafe.) The other possibility is that various models have hinted at a snow storm at the end of this warm period the Thursday or Friday before the Birkie, which would freshen up any base there*. But we don’t want to rely on hoping for a snowstorm a week out.

(* Namely, the last three runs of the GFS model have shown this, as have two runs of the ECMWF, but it’s a close call. The midday GFS today, for instance, shows a foot of snow falling on Hayward, but with the rain-snow line in about Trego. There’s not much margin for error there! Still, I’d buy what the 12Z GFS is selling: 8-16″ of snow starting on Thursday evening in to Friday, starting wet and heavy but finishing cold and powdery, with race temperatures on new snow in the teens. Notably, the ECMWF matches this, and the Canadian model is similar, albeit a day late.)

There’s also significantly more snow on the northern half of the trail than the southern half, and it’s possible that the trail will be skiable north of OO and not to the south. The new Classic trail gives the option of turning the race back at OO and finishing it in Cable, although this would be operationally difficult, it may be an option. We’d certainly miss out on the Hayward finish, but if it’s not skiable and the ice isn’t safe.

We’ve had a good run of Birkies: the last time there was this much uncertainty for the Birkie was in 2007. We may have that sort of issue: enough snow north of OO, and not south. Or we may have an 2012 scenario: dry ground in Spooner, but perfect conditions on the trail. It’s wait and see time, though, and hopefully we’ll be skiing down Main Street in 10 days.

Uhm …

No news is not good news. No news is me not posting.

I’ll keep it short: it’s going to get warm in Wisconsin next week. Maybe in to the 50s. Maybe some rain. It should cool down by the Birkie, but the base is going to get hit hard. The lake might as well. Cross your fingers it doesn’t. But it doesn’t look very promising right now.