PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — October is one of the busiest times of the year at Seven Springs. The resort is located 3,000-feet above sea level. Elevated, it’s often times a good 10-15 degrees colder than Pittsburgh and Greensburg, even though it’s just about an hours drive from those communities.
Kirk Russel is the resort’s “Mountain Manager.”
“We have to make sure all of our ponds are full of water, all the snow-making equipment and machines are ready to go,” he says. “As soon as we get some cold weather, and it looks like it’s going to stay that way, we will start making some snow.”
Kirk has been working on the mountain for about 40 years. He knows Pennsylvania winters. So, for him, do winters now compare to winters of the past?
“That’s a really tough question, every season is different. They’re never the same,” he said. “It did seem like winters came a little earlier, but I remember the third year I was here, and that was 35 years ago, we didn’t make snow until Christmastime.”
Dick Baron’s the director of the resort’s “Ski Patrol.” During the season, he’s up and out at 4:30 every morning checking on snow conditions. You can read his snow report every morning when you wake up. He’s also not too sure that winters now are any better than what we’ve seen in the past.
“Over the years, it has been all over the place. It’s been up and down. There is nothing to compare it to. I’ve been here for 46 years and it is all over the place,” he says.
Winter, and the possible lack of winter, is something that keeps Ron Aldom up at night. He’s the executive director of the Somerset County Chamber of Commerce. He’s seen reports of warmer weather and knows what the long-term forecast is for his county.
“To my county, I mean, you know, we actually relish snow. We like it,” Aldom said.
You’ve heard the saying a high tide lifts all boats? Here? The same is true when it comes to snow. More snow equals better business for everyone in the county.
“I have seen the peaks and the valleys,” Aldom says. “Maybe it’s hit a milder trend now, but I do remember that before. When it does hit, it’s significant, and the impact is significant.”
So what can you expect when it comes to winter in the future? For meteorologists, it’s a question that just won’t go away.
People are genuinely fascinated by winter, the weather and always want to be the first to know what the future holds. Even, it seems, after we retire. Meteorologist Dennis Bowman retired a couple of years ago from the television airwaves. Even after retirement, he continues to keep the most detailed set of weather records of any person or business in Western Pennsylvania.
“I hear the same thing. People say it just doesn’t seem to snow the way it did when I was a kid. In which, I say, are you kidding me? All you have to do is think as far back as the winter of 2013-14; yeah, way back then,” Bowman said. “Sixty-three inches of snow the normal is 41.9 [inches]. Then, let’s go all the way back to 2009-10, which includes the ‘Snowmageddon’ storm in February. Seventy-six inches of snow so that’s a lot of snow.”
Bowman’s forecast for the year? He feels we are due.
“Yes! Due for a little taste of normalcy around here. Again, the normal is around 41.9 inches of snow,” Bowman says. “I think we will see around 48, with maybe eight to 10 coming in December and the rest coming in January, February and the early part of March.”
But even if we do see record amounts of snow this season, it may not seem like it to you. In fact, no matter what happens in the future, it may never equal the winters you remember as a child. And, according to Dr. Anthony Mannarino, a psychologist at the Allegheny Health Network, it’s just how the human brain works.
“When you’re a child, everything kind of seems bigger. Adults seem bigger and stronger than they actually are, and things we encounter in life just seem a lot bigger,” Dr. Mannarino said. “I think the same is true with some weather, too. So, snowstorms and horrible thunderstorms when we are children, we are more easily frightened and scared, and things just seem like they’re on a much bigger scale than what they really are.”
Neil Donahue certainly remembers years of big snows and winters here in Pennsylvania when he was a child. He spent much of his childhood years here locally before his family moved away. He’s now the director of the Steinbrenner Institute on the Carnegie Mellon University campus.
“When I was a kid, there was so much snow I could barely see up over the snowbanks. We used to have extreme snowstorms. We’d play hockey up in Fox Chapel every winter. I’m pretty sure if I tried to play hockey on that pond now, I’d drown,” he says.
He says big winters, and especially, big isolated snows will always be a thing here in Pennsylvania.
“One of the things that is likely to happen in the future is more rain, and especially in places like Pittsburgh that have lots of gullies,” he says. “And you know what happened in Washington [State] a couple of years ago, that type of event – especially extreme conditions like really heavy downpours like we saw just a couple of days ago, those are likely to become more frequent.”
But long-term he expects us to see changes. The real type.
“If I was investing in ski resorts, I wouldn’t be looking to invest in places like what we have here in western Pennsylvania where there’s not a lot of up-slope. The snow line, basically, I expect that to keep rising up and up and up.”
One area we may already be seeing some change is in how much snow is on the ground. While we still have the peaks and valleys and the chance of heavy snow, snow doesn’t seem to be sticking around as long.
The last time the Pittsburgh area has reported more than 10 inches of snow on the ground was February 2010. That was in the aftermath of “Snowmageddon,” and for nearly three weeks after the storm the area was reporting more than 10 inches of snow on the ground.