The Birkie may be on, but the planet is unhealthy

Before we toast the Birkie with a full mug of beer, let’s pour one out, as they say, for the planet. Because the planet is not in good shape.tempanom

While it looks cool and snowy in Northern Wisconsin, the same can’t be said of much of the rest of the earth. There’s a lot of red on that map, not much blue, and the red is centered over the North Pole, which may not be much of an ice cap in the future. This isn’t good for the long range, and we should expect more variability, and more 2017s, if that is the case.

But more locally, it’s warm. The warm weather of last year just shifted 1000 miles east. It’s 65˚ south of a line from Boston to Chicago. In the middle of February. Before last year, Boston had had four 70˚ days in January and February in since data has been kept in 1872. #4 occurred last February, as the Birkie-cancellation heat spread east. There’s a good chance that the temperature will crack 70 today and tomorrow; if it does, the city will have as many 70˚ degree days in two years as the previous 145.

This is not normal.

We can all take steps in our own lives to combat climate change, but we can also take steps collectively. Talk to the crazy uncle who thinks climate change is a Chinese plot against America. Go out and vote for the politician that actually believes climatologists and data. It’s our Birkie. We need to save it. The trends aren’t good.


Narrowing goalposts (weather speculation)

This is the kind of post I like to write: it’s going to be a good Birkie.

PSA: The Birkie Trail is closed starting Tuesday morning. Please don’t ski on it. We have some suggestions on where to ski here.

We’re five days away. The weather models can change, but at this time frame, they don’t change too much. Last year at this time we were prognosticating a 50% chance of cancellation. This year? It’s basically 0. The Birkie will happen. Almost definitely on a full course, with perfect conditions, and a Main Street finish. Hallelujah.

The details, of course, are important. The trail has enough snow on it right now to survive a bit of above-freezing weather, but that doesn’t look to be in the cards. It’s snowing right now—not a foot as some models had shown, but an inch here and an inch there—and then seasonable, normal weather through Birkie. Lows around and highs around 20 Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to let the snow set up (stay off the trail please as it does). Maybe a tiny bit of sleet tomorrow to put a little moisture in the snow, but most of the snow falling right around 20˚. And then on Friday, just before the Korteloppet, an inch, maybe two, to freshen things up.

Which brings us to the big events.

The Korteloppet looks to start with temperatures in the 20s and lingering light snow. It may be cloudy, but the sun may make an appearance during the race, pushing the temperatures towards freezing. The snow should stay powdery, although some south-facing downhills (I’m thinking of 34k, for example) may get a bit slushy, especially for later waves.

The Birkebeiner is a bit more interesting. It looks to be clear and calm on Friday night and with some fresh snow cover, the temperature should plummet. One model has it bottoming out around 0˚ on Friday night, the others in the single digits. This should let the groomers pack down the new snow, and repack the Korteloppet tracks, and let the snow set up well. Still a day for your soft skis, I think, but not a 2014-style sufferfest. Temperatures during the day on Saturday will rebound quickly, however, as there is warm air aloft, with temperatures making a run at freezing. Sky cover will likely be at least party cloudy (and may be overcast) and surface winds should be light. With some snow lingering in the trees, it should be a postcard-worthy race.

Main Street after the race should be comfortable. There’s a decent chance that, for the first time since 2010, it will be 35˚ and sunny, which makes walking around town and down on the lake with a New Glarus all the more wonderful.

Anyone running Boston?

It’s 8 weeks to the Boston Marathon, and 1 week to the “Boston Marathon of Cross Country Skiing”. Is anyone (besides me) doing both? If so, want to join me on a podcast to talk about how you make the switch from skiing to running for the short interval between the two races? Email me: ari.ofsevit at gmail.

The Birkie is a deal!

In the past couple of years I’ve participated in three of the top-15 (or so) marathon-length races in the country: the Boston and Chicago marathons and the Birkie. (Yes, if the 2016 Birkie was a footrace, it would be the 13th largest marathon-or-longer race in the country, between the Portland and San Francisco marathons.) When I run Boston, they charge me $180. Chicago: $195. New York is close to $300. Even smaller races like Grandma’s and the Twin Cities marathon have entry fees well over $100. The Birkie is comparatively cheap, at just $115.

And remember, all of those races don’t have to maintain their course: that’s done by the local highway department. Some are loop courses (Chicago, for instance) and don’t have buses to and from the start. They have to close down more roads, but they don’t have to mow or groom them. Or put down a fresh layer of asphalt on the finish.

I found an article about the Birkie from 1989 in the New York Times. Back then, race registration was $60, only half of what it is today, except that’s not adjusted for inflation. When you make the adjustment, it turns out the Birkie is cheaper now than it was back then: the $60 race fee in 1989 is equivalent to $122 today. It’s not cheap to run the second-largest bus system in the state, or groom nearly 100 kilometers of trails, or snow in a main street, but the Birkie makes it happen without breaking the bank. See you on the trails!

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.

A tale of three models

We’re getting in to range now. 10 days out we start go get good reads from three models, 8 runs per day (2 each for the Canadian and European, four for the US), at least publicly (The US and Canadian models have free output, I generally view their output via TropicalTidbits; the Euro is harder, but you can get its output pretty well via the Norwegian weather service here.

The good news: the GFS model’s current run (with similar, if not as good, prognostication from recent runs). The US model only has a few hours barely above freezing, and then brings more good news in the form of fresh snow the week before the race and temperatures around 0 at the start of the Birkie rising in to the 20s during the race (similar for the Korteloppet). This is basically the perfect situation for the Birkie, a cold, snowy, firm-but-not-icy midwinter race.

The European is similar, although not quite as bullish, and doesn’t get us data right up to the Birkie itself, but doesn’t have really much meltdown. A little less snow. A little warmer leading in to the Korteloppet. But both these models lead us in to a pretty damn good race weekend weather situation.

Then there’s the Canadian model. This is basically the worst case scenario. It keeps it plenty cold (with a few inches of snow) for the next week-plus, but then diverges from the GFS. On Thursday, it pushes a low pressure center through Fargo, with temperatures pushing 50˚ and some rain. The course might survive; it’s not what happened last year. And a cold front would sweep through on Friday. But it would be very not good, so we don’t want to ride the Canadian.

12 days to go. Stay tuned …

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.

Reading tea leaves

We’re now 18 days from the Birkie.

(Okay, this is kind of scary. Have you started waxing your skis? You should.)

This is the point where we can start speculating about the weather. Sort of. Let’s start with where we are. We’re about where we were at this point last year: there’s good snow on the Birkie Trail, but it’s not particularly deep. The good news is that there are not long-range weather maps with sirens showing a huge warm-up. The not-so-good news is that we’re not out of the woods yet: there are some signs that it may be above normal the week leading in to the Birkie.

The next week looks cold (good) and dry. The week after looks like there may be a warm-up around the 15th, but the models are undecided on how warm it may get. The GFS has wavered between a couple of days above freezing and just temperatures moderating towards 30, while the Euro shows similar results. The Canadian gets warmer, with a couple of days around the 40 degree mark, but it’s a warm outlier right now. There’s nothing, however, which suggests a week in the 50s, a run at 60, and heavy rain (see 2017). We can’t rule it out, but it certainly looks better.

Keep an eye on this page as you select your skis. And hopefully we’ll be on race skis, not rock skis, in little more than two weeks!