2019-2020 Japanese Snow Season Outlook – February Update

February 19th, 2020


Regular storms have seen a big improvement this month with a few epic powder days on both Honshu and Hokkaido. Toshiya Kasuga, getting the goods somewhere in Hokkaido last week. Photo: Oyuki


Mountainwatch | The Grasshopper


More Powder Days Ahead, But Expect No Miracles This Spring


After yet another wet and warm spring-like week, Japan is now at the tail end of a much-needed snowstorm, not a big as expected but still a decent one among too few this season. However, with more snow on the cards this Sunday and next week (more on that in Thursday’s forecast), along with the great run of powder daysearlier in the month, February has brought some redemption to the Japanese season.

This comes after the leanest start to any Japanese season we’ve ever seen. Although far from massive, snowfall amounts this February have in fact managed to avoid the wooden spoon at a lot of resorts – last February was perhaps worse for Honshu – and after we tally up numbers from this storm and the rest of the month, we should mostly be sitting a bit below average compared to all other Februarys.

Snow woes to continue

Looking further ahead at the months of March and April, on average we see a steady drop-off in snowfall as the East Asia Winter Monsoon (EAWM) winds down. Weather patterns wander more freely, creating more variable conditions, but in a good year we can still see a metre or two fall during these months, while a bad year will see half a metre or less.

Unfortunately, the odds are stacked against us having one of those “good years”, with below average snowfalls during March and April the most likely outcome. In the previous outlook, I pointed the finger at a number of climate drivers that could be responsible for our snow woes. Apart from short-term wobbles that have coincided with snowfall this past month, overall there hasn’t been any great change in the state of the climate and models don’t expect there to be any in the next couple of months.


A bird’s-eye-view of 500hPa geopotential height anomalies over the northern hemisphere from the last month. Yellows and reds over Japan are a bad look for Japow. Cold air has been locked up tight over the Arctic, while warm, low-pressure systems have been free to run amok off China.

To rub more salt in the wound, temperatures are likely to remain warm throughout Japan after some regions have already just experienced their warmest January on record. Not only that, but eastern China and it’s adjacent seas are primed for cyclonic activity, meaning those nasty warm, rain events that have chomped away at what precious little snow has fallen will continue to plague us.


JMA’s outlook for the next month doesn’t look promising; you’re allowed to cry now. Source: JMA

The Japanese Meteorological Agency (JMA) concurs with this unfavourable outlook and gives a high chance of only light snowfall over the next month. Their outlook for March and April as a whole also doesn’t look promising for a miraculous turnaround in our snow fortunes.

A couple of ensemble weather models, which try to look beyond the 10-14 day forecast barrier of their high-resolution deterministic counterparts, are indicating a snowfall event during the first week of March. It’s early days, but is worth crossing your skis for, as this could be the last gasp of the season.

Enjoy the powder while you can

I hate to be the bearer of bad news with all this talk of below average and what-not, but unfortunately the climate just hasn’t played ball this season, and I’m sure a warming planet hasn’t helped. Looking back on my earlier outlooks, the first half of the season was slated to be a bit rough and things would pick up during the second half. This has mostly played out, but I could never have predicted the lowest snowfall on record.


Craig Moegel, room to move in the Hakuba backcountry last month.

Although we don’t expect any great turnaround in our snow fortunes this spring, the next few days as well as next week will hold some excellent powder days. So dry those eyes, and get out there.

That’s it from me folks. Remember to keep checking out my weekly forecasts for both Japan and North America, giving you all the highlights and snowlights of the coming week. If you’ve got a different theory on what’s going to happen over the next couple of months, or just want to provide feedback, then please hit me up on the discussion below. Or you can follow me on Facebook.