There have been a lot of questions posed about the conditions of Scenic Hot Springs.  I’d like to offer some clarification of what we expect the conditions to be, considering the unseasonable weather we have been having.

Scenic in Feb 2006 during the last La Nina 

What is happening is that the Northwest is in an unstable La Nina cycle.  As reports:

It appears to be La Nina’s turn to stir things up this winter, as her meteorological brother El Nino has finished up a three-year run. 
Climate scientists agree that the phenomenon known as La Nina – “the little girl” – has settled back in after being last seen in 2007-08. As with its more-publicized partner El Nino – “the Christ child”, La Nina affects everything from snowfall across the United States to hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean to monsoons in India. The water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific have dropped steadily since last April, according to the Climate Prediction Center of the National Weather Service, meaning La Nina is indeed on her way.
So if past is prologue, skiers and snowboarders in the Northwest and Northern Rockies should get ready for some epic powder days. During the last episode, Mt. Baker received a record 1,100 inches of snowfall, while Mt. Hood got more than 800 inches. 
“Stay north,” scientist Jeff Weber of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., told OnTheSnow. ” La Nina is like a fire hose of moisture right on Banff and Washington state.”

So . . . we are seeing a series of storms being brought in which will dump a lot of precipitation in the mountains.  The kicker here is . . . will the snow level be low enough to have the expected major impact on Scenic Hot Springs.  The indications are that it will:

During a La Nina, the Jet Stream is pushed north by
pressure gradients parked off the coast

 So . . . expect some major dumps of snow in the Cascades.

Scenic Hot Springs is situated at 3,520ft.  Indeed, the snow levels just this coming week are predicted to come down from 2,500ft to 500ft by the end of the week.  Stevens Pass, nearby and at the same elevation, has received nine inches of new snow in the last two days.  We had a warm period last month that melted away a lot of the snow but temperatures are coming down as the jet stream centers in on us.  Snow.

The other question revolves around what is the response of the hot springs going to be to this mish-mash of moving snow levels and precipitation?  Difficult to say . . . especially without daily trip reports from visitors (hint, hint).

The temperature of the actual hot springs is historically reliable.  Unfortunately, these springs run and emerge shallow and are very susceptible to mixing with snowmelt and rainfall.  (Lobster, with the hottest and largest flow is most affected; Bear Den tends to remain stable; even ignoring the effects of snowmelt).  The question is more accurately put as to whether the current conditions will lock up ground water (by freezing it), or make the situation worse.

Matt has tried to explain this to visitors.  In essence, if the snow level remains above 4,000ft for any period of time (as it was for the last month), ground water from the snow melt below 4,000ft will mix with and adversely affect the flow and temperatures of the springs . . . and will continue to do so until the ground has become unsaturated or . . . temperatures (or snow level) come down enough to lock up that cold water . . . usually a good week of cold weather.  This coming week we are looking at snow levels to go way down to 500 ft but will it be enough to slow the mixing?  We hope so but only on-the-scene trip reports can give us accurate information.  Giving enough cold weather the springs will come back up to temperature quickly.

For the casual person wanting to visit, be prepared to be disappointed.  The springs are very sensitive to the amount of snowmelt in the surrounding ground.  I do expect a lot of powder snow in the near term . . . and that suggests snowshoes.  For sure, those hiking up the highway from the BNSF staging area are going to need snowshoes to deal with the snowberms the plows keep building up alongside the highway.