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August 25, 2006

El Nino May be Coming

The National Weather Services is reporting a possibly weak el Nino this year.

he statistical and coupled model forecasts range from ENSO-neutral to weak warm (El Niño) episode conditions for the remainder of 2006 and into early 2007 (Fig. 4). The forecasts are consistent with the recent build up in upper-ocean heat content along the equator (Fig. 3), indicating a trend toward warm-episode conditions. In the absence of any strong intraseasonal (Madden-Julian Oscillation – MJO) activity, a continued slow trend toward warm-episode conditions is expected. Therefore, ENSO-neutral conditions are expected to continue for the next one to three months, with a 50% chance that weak El Niño conditions will develop by the end of 2006.

So what does that mean for me? These folks can tell you:

With El Nino conditions, precipitation and temperature effects combine to accentuate the effect on snowfall. In the Southwest, there is a slight tendency toward cooler winters, and a strong tendency toward wet winters, which makes higher elevation snowpack deeper. In the Pacific Northwest, El Nino winters are warmer and drier than usual, so that at a given elevation 1) less precipitation occurs, and 2) the freezing level is higher, so the type of precipitation is more likely to be rain, and 3) the accumulation season is shorter. All three conspire to produce a smaller snowpack accumulation by the end of winter in the Pacific Northwest.

This bodes well for places like Wolf Creek, Brian Head, Snowbowl, Sunrise, etc., that lie in the Southern Rockies. Now mind you that climatologists never say "this is the case" but rather "there is a xxx% chance of blah blah blah." So take it for what it is worth. But regardless, it still is encouraging if this turns out to be the case. We are experiencing an extremely wet monsoon in Arizona which also bodes well for skiing down south.

Posted by Justin at August 25, 2006 01:38 PM


Oh please please please let it be so. I moved to Santa Fe last September and spent the whole winter wistfully looking at the upper mountain (which never opened) while riding 2-3 runs of man-made.

Yes, I did make it up to Wolf Creek for the 100" dump in March, however I've spent the summer mountain biking the blue squares, so I actually got to see what I was missing.

Posted by: Gabe da Silveira at August 26, 2006 11:58 PM