The Trouble With Winter Forecasts


What dreams are made of

I am not a meteorologist. I am a skier, a follower of storms, a keen jumper of cornices, a carver of hard snow. I make my living in the winter mountains. Like a farmer that relies on the vagaries of the weather, so I rely upon the deposition of snow at just the right times and in just the right amounts. Farmer’s have their almanac. Skiers have their long-term forecast.

For me the winter forecast is about more than the El Nino/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Cycle, or the suddenly-everywhere Pacific Decadal Oscillation and certainly more than arctic volcanic activity of two years ago. It is about the hope of blissful powder mornings and the dream of a deep snowpack, an early winter storm and a long spring corn cycle. It is about the dream of a crisp, blue sky above corn snow that breaks into fine sugar crystals and lines of thick corduroy drawn perfectly in the snow.

Long-term forecasting is a fickle science. Meteorologists use computer models to predict three-day forecasts with great confidence. Beyond that, their certainty dwindles. And in the ski industry, we need more than merely snow, we need it to fall at the right times. During the midweek is the best time for a hearty snow storm, as is the week before a major holiday. But then we want to storms to clear so skiers and riders can enjoy the slopes with decent visibility. Even a snowy winter can still mean a bad ski season. The two are not always synonymous.

But still. This time of year, I track those forecasts like the farmer that I am. I read every prediction, watch every wooly caterpillar, and measure the size of every spider web. I’ve even put spoons under my pillow and left pennies on my windowsill to ensure a snow day. So I suppose putting a little credence into a long-term forecast isn’t any less ridiculous. It gives me something to either look forward to or ward against. One way or another, the forecasts are in. And they don’t agree.

NOAA refers to their winter forecast as the Winter Outlook. According to NOAA, we are in an El Nino phase. The fire hose of the jet stream will be aimed further south than normal, leaving the Pacific Northwest higher and dryer than last year. This could happen. However, one of our biggest snow years ever was an El Nino season, so this isn’t a death sentence. Yet, this isn’t news that I’ve welcomed with open arms.

Walking off into the sunset, ski patrol style

The Farmer’s Almanac disagrees on temperature, saying that we will be cold and dry. In a ski area, cold is always better than warm. And yet. This isn’t welcoming news either.

Long-range forecaster Joe Bastardi, however, has a hopeful prediction. He claims that the next three winters could be especially cold, due to the PDO (Pacific Decadal Oscillation) which predicts weather patterns that last for longer cycles.

Bastardi also cites that volcanic activity and the La Nina, El Nino, Stronger La Nina pattern of the past three years looks very much like the good (c)old days of the late 1970s.

Needless to say, I’m putting my money on Bastardi. But I’m a dreamer, not an expert. What about you? What are your predictions for the winter?

6 responses »

  1. Kim

    You didn’t stay long enough at Whistler–don’t forget to ride the trail to Brandywine Falls when you go back.

    Have you and hubby flown the Beaver into Stehekin on Lake Chelan?

    If the long range forcast is for colder and drier, then I’m encouraged that this winter could be epic. We are close enough to the big pond and rarely lack for moisture, so cold and dry may mean more sunny days and drier powder snow–I could ski that. Our patrol has the 1st chair evac next Sunday, so winter is on its way.

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