We’ve been hearing about El Niño on the news and it is expected to be a “Super” El Niño. So far, it's been exceptionally warm for everyone and really wet in the Northwest. But North America doesn't typically feel the repercussions of El Niño until January, February and March. So what does this mean for skiers and riders for the 2015-16 season? Let’s take a quick look at what it is and what the weather forecasters are predicting.
What is El Niño?
El Niño is a temporary natural occurrence on the earth where every 3 to 6 years, the surface of the sea in the Pacific Ocean along the equator will become warmer than normal. When this happens, it changes the weather patterns around the globe. The increased warmth of the water alters the jet stream and changes the weather we normally expect in North America. It’s important to note that El Niño is different each time. It has occurred numerous times in the past and has similarities that weather forecasters use to help predict the weather. But, there are other factors that come into play with the weather and predictions aren’t always perfect.
The Impact on Skiers and Snowboards
The impact of El Niño on the jet stream is that it will have a more southerly storm track. Therefore, based on what we have gathered from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), AccuWeather.com, and other meteorologists, here is what we can expect for North America and various ski regions:
Northeast – As people in the northeast are already seeing, there is typically a delayed start to winter. But, January and February should see the effects of El Niño. The expectation is that the storm tracks will go up the coast along with a few big nor'easters. This will create more snow then normal but temperatures will be erratic.
Mid-Atlantic – Weather will be cooler and wetter then normal. This should create a better snow season for the mountains.
Midwest – The Michigan area should expect warmer and drier weather than normal. But, there can be some wild swings.
Wyoming/Montana – Grand Targhee is off to a great start. But, this area is expected to have its up and downs once El Niño gets into full swing. It will depend on how far the Jet Stream extends from south to north.
Pacific Northwest – Lots of rain so far in the area. But, come January you can expect things to be warmer and drier than normal. During the 2010 Winter Olympics, El Niño warmed Vancouver causing lower snowfall then normal. But, El Niño is unpredictable and it can be hit-or-miss depending on the jet stream. If it hits just right, there could be some big storms.
Lake Tahoe – Tahoe can expect a really good winter. El Niño years have a tendency to produce heavier snow in this area then normal. Expect some big storms in January and February with the possibility of records at some areas.
Southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico – According to NOAA, the majority of the Southwest regions has a 30-40% chance of above average precipitation this winter which should lead to increased snowfall in the ski areas.
Salt Lake and Colorado – Already hit with some large snow storms, this area can expect higher snowfall the normal once El Niño kicks in. If you like touring the backcountry, this may be the place to go. Places like Beaver Creek have the potential for record snowfall.
Canada and Alaska – El Niño typically brings warmer weather to western Canada and southern Alaska. There will be ups and downs. But, some of these areas get plenty of snow even in bad years.
El Niño has many affect and one interesting one is the effect on Hurricanes. The change in the jet stream actually produces a wind shear over the Caribbean and Atlantic. This wind shear helps to prevent tropical disturbances from developing into hurricanes during hurricane season (June to November). El Niño is credited with making the 2009 Atlantic hurricane season the least active in 12 years.