Ski Season Update, El Nino, & The Blob Returns

October 24, 2018

8pm Wednesday…

We have an easy week here at FOX12.  That’s not just due to the slow weather, but 5 nights with no early shows due to the World Series and Thursday Night Football. So what else would a weather geek do except plug some numbers into a spreadsheet and make some graphs?

2 weeks ago I posted my thoughts about this upcoming “El Nino” winter, that’s up above on the tab titled WINTER 2018-19 THOUGHTS.   Nothing has changed since that time, except that it seems to be even more a likelihood that we’re entering this kind of winter.  Note the increasing sea surface temperatures the past few weeks (right side graphs)

Nino_ThisWeek_ONI

 

There is a section in there about ski area conditions during this type of winter that includes this chart

Snow_MeadowsElNino

The key points?

  1. El Nino winters are rarely “ski disasters”
  2. EVERY EL NINO SINCE 1970 HAS PRODUCED BELOW NORMAL WINTER SNOWFALL AT 4,000′ ON MT. HOOD.
  3. ONLY A FEW YEARS ARE REALLY BAD, MOST JUST HAVE LESS FREQUENT SNOWFALL AND MORE RAIN/SNOW EVENTS.
  4. El Nino winters are often more reasonable up above 5,000′ or so.

But tonight I wondered what happens EARLY in the ski season.

We’re talking November and December.  My conventional thinking in the past has been that many El Nino winters “begin with a bang”, like Nov/Dec 2006.  Then they often peter out to mild/dry or mild/wet after the New Year.  Apparently that’s not the case much of the time.

Let’s take the last 16 El Nino seasons.  That is my entire lifetime, back to 1969 (getting old).  I totalled November & December snow totals at Government Camp (~4,000′).

The long-term average for these two months is 87″ (35″ in November & 52″ in December)

But during El Nino seasons the average is significantly lower…just 57″, that’s the lower dashed line.  The key message is that in 10 out of 16 years, snowfall was well below average during the first two months of the wet season.

ElNino_November-December Govt Camp Snow

By the way, here’s November 19th snow depth on Mt. Hood near the bottom of Timberline’s Pucci Chairlift for the past 9 winters.  Last year was great…until a pineapple express melted much of that 34″ just before Thanksgiving.  That delayed ski area openings a bit.

Mark Mt Hood Snowpack November

On that chart above you might be wondering what the “M” refers to on some of those years?  Those were “El Nino Modoki” years, where the warm pool of water in the tropical Pacific was centered farther west.  It has been documented that these Modoki events produce different effects over the mid-latitudes than a “typical” El Nino.  Here’s a nice visual showing the difference between the two “flavors” of El Nino:

ElNino_Modoki_SST Look

And here is what we have right now

BlobView_Oct18

It sure looks more like a Modoki flavor of El Nino doesn’t it?  That said, I don’t see much real correlation between the early part of Modoki ski seasons and low snow totals.

Of course what really sticks out on that sea surface temp chart is the return of “THE BLOB”.  Take a look at all the “warm” water in the Eastern Pacific!  The past two months have seen a rapid development of “The Blob v2”.  You may remember that for about 18 months in 2014-15 we had a large blob of warm water offshore.  This is what it looked like in March 2015

blob_march2015

a closer look at what we have right now…

blob_today

This time the blob is slightly farther to the west, although it has moved closer to us recently…here’s one month ago

blob_latesept

What does an El Nino winter plus tons of “warm” water to our west mean?  I don’t think anyone really knows the answer.  But I don’t think it’s good if you want a cold/wet winter with lots of mountain snowfall.  It COULD be a difficult winter ahead for the ski resorts.  Regardless, I’m going for a season pass for one family member anyway.  Except in the very few bad years, EVERY winter has decent ski conditions off/on through the season.  We’ll see how it goes.

Chief Meteorologist Mark Nelsen