It’s that time of year…the snow that has accumulated on Mt. Hood the past 4 days is probably going to stick around. And that leads to emails with questions like “Is it going to be a good ski season?” or “El Nino won’t mess up the winter will it?” The short answer is NO ONE REALLY KNOWS.
Let me say that I don’t really do winter forecasts, either for the lowlands or the mountains…mainly because most winter forecasts I see don’t seem to work out much better than just taking a guess. It IS true that in certain winters the confidence is significantly higher than others. Two good examples:
- El Nino winters (warming of the tropical Pacific) generally give warmer and drier than normal conditions, especially from northern Oregon up through Washington. In fact that is such a well-known phenomenon that it’s dangerous to utter the “EL WORD” while in a ski area office. I made that mistake a month or so ago while casually throwing some weather lingo around up on the mountain.
- La Nina winters (cooling of the tropical Pacific) generally give us cooler and wetter than average conditions. These winters have often been big snow producers, or at least solid snow producers, on Mt. Hood.
- The Ski Mountaineer website does a great job correlating snowfall in the Cascades with these two winter types. Although the site hasn’t been updated since 2006, a great and exhaustive resource for skiers/snowboarders.
There is not much information out there that gives me much confidence in a forecast for this winter, but here are a few tidbits:
1. The last El Nino winter was 2009-2010 and the last La Nina was 2011-2012. Last winter was neither. This winter will likely be a “neither” or “La Nada” too. We call those “neutral” winters.
2. From August through early October, some of our long-range climate forecasting models were hinting at a weak El Nino or at least on the “warm side” of neutral this winter. In the past month models seem to have backed off on a threat. As a result it does not appear we’ll see a weak El Nino this winter. Good news for snow riders!
3. We’ve seen 17 “Neutral Winters” since 1950. Those winters have produced near average snowfall at Gov’t Camp 88% of the years, and below average snowfall 12% of the years.
4. No neutral winter has produced a huge snow year at Gov’t Camp. For comparison, 264″ is the average yearly total, lowest is 99″, highest ever is 474″. I consider a “huge” snow year one where 350″ or more falls in Govy. That’s based on a study Drew Jackson did while working here at KPTV (and I’ve now updated).
So it’s probably safe to say we won’t have a monster snow year, but there’s no reason to believe it’ll be a low snow year either…more good news.
Of course we can have some monster storms early in the season then rainouts later on and still have an “average” snowpack. As you know, it’s all about timing and the type of storms we get. That we can not predict.
There are lots of other indices like PDO, AO, NAO, QBO, etc…that probably all factor into our weather in some way, but obviously no one has figured out how to predict our future winter weather well. If they had, they’d also be rich!
Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen