Ski Season Update, El Nino, & The Blob Returns

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)



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


The key points?

  1. El Nino winters are rarely “ski disasters”
  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


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


a closer look at what we have right now…


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


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

19 Responses to Ski Season Update, El Nino, & The Blob Returns

  1. Joshua Lake Oswego says:

    Mark might want to change his mind about this not being the start of the rainy season. It’s looking like a juicy couple of weeks ahead.

    • Ken in Wood Village says:

      I agree with you Joshua. If I remember, I said something about our rainy season starting. Sunday and maybe Monday we could see thunderstorms too. It’s about time we starting having some type of weather 🙂

  2. Kirk Mattila says:

    Thank you.

  3. W7ENK says:

    Heads up, folks! Thunderstorms are absolutely 100% guaranteed this afternoon.

    Literally, it happens every single time!

  4. Joshua Lake Oswego says:

    KRTX Radar is down and will be at lest until tomorrow. It’s almost like they purposely choose the worst possible time to conduct the maintenance.

    • Ken in Wood Village says:

      I know what you mean. You would think they would make sure they were working when we didn’t have any rainfall. I guess it’s a second thought to them during the dry season.

    • W7ENK says:

      Oops! I forgot to refresh my browser page, so your post wasn’t showing when I made mine above. My bad… lol

      • Ken in Wood Village says:

        LOL, it’s ok. I haven’t heard anything about thunderstorms for this afternoon but Sunday and maybe Monday we could see some. It seems the radar always goods down when we could see some exciting weather. It’s hard to do storm chasing when it’s down…lol

  5. Roland Derksen says:

    Not much rain to talk about last night either. About a fifth of an inch here in the gauge. but i still think it’s rather premature to write off the season. Let’s give it another few weeks, please.

  6. Ken in Wood Village says:

    Sunday could be the first storm of the season in which we finally get a soaking and we could actually have thunderstorms. I’m just hoping the models keep this up 🙂

  7. Jason Hougak says:

    Wolf Creek Ski Area in Colorado opens this weekend while Hood looks about the most bare as I’ve ever seen it. The Sandy Glacier will be gone in a couple years if we don’t get some above average snowfall winters and cooler summers. What happened to winters like 98-99! Timberline boasted a 300”+ settled base. The Reid Glacier is actually holding on. The topography around the Reid Glaciers helps collect the snow while the ridge to Illumination Rock provides some shade. Also the elevation of the Reid is higher than the Sandy. It’s a stark different mountain compared to pictures from the early 1900’s. At some point Hood will just be another barren volcanic peak, no longer laced in ribbons of glaciers.

    • Paul D says:

      Mt. Hood is now a summer resort with occasional availability for winter activities. Anyone who likes to ski as much as possible should be moving somewhere else.

  8. boydo3 says:

    Nuke the blob!

  9. Dave in SW PDX (235 ft) says:

    Thanks for the new post and your thoughts on the upcoming ski season, Mark. I stopped buying season passes after the El Nino winter of ’04-’05. That was just too painful for someone who likes it steep and deep. I don’t think the base at Meadows exceeded 40 inches that year, barely enough to cover the stumps.

  10. K says:

    Wait, nothing on the upcoming rain?

    • Ken in Wood Village says:

      I think the reason why was because the topic was talking about the upcoming season for skiing. Mark could post another blog about the coming rain. For the short-term, it looks like Sunday and Monday could be active 🙂

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