Tag Archives: El Niño-Southern Oscillation

(Still) The Last Bits of Summer

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Late summer sun gets a (skier’s) thumbs up!

I’ve been telling my husband that the PNW is known for its “Indian Summers”. Sure, June can come in like a bag of cats. And go out like a bag of cats that’s been closed for 30 days, but woo boy. Just you wait until September. Late summer, skipping the hump over the equinox into shorter days, sunsets like neopolitan ice cream, these all wait for us. If only we are patient.

This is my story, and I’m sticking with it. Up until this year, however, my husband thought I was crazy. Up until the 2012 end-of-summer-beginning-of-autumn, I didn’t have much of an argument. But he’s admitted it now. I was right. Sometimes September can rock. Every once in a while, the air stays warm, a high pressure sets up, and we feel vindicated for foggy June.

Best of all, this post-summer warmth staves off the early winter blues. It makes the wait for winter easier. Because there is nothing worse than rain in Seattle when we know it is not snowing in the mountains. The mountains, and their plentiful snowfall, is what make winters here tolerable. I’m not sure how regular people (the one’s that don’t ski or ride and don’t think a surprise snowfall in the city is awesome, because they actually have to go to work anyways) survive the winter. If I didn’t ski, the rain and the incessant storms would be pointless.

How do you like September now?

And in other news, its started snowing in Montana. Specifically Big Sky, Montana. Check out the tramcam to see for yourself. These first snowfalls of the year (already hit Utah and Colorado last month) are what bring the “stoke”.

(This is a far over-used word, and should now only be used by industry marketing departments. Or maybe not even them. Presumably it means that these photos stoke the fire of last season’s enthusiasm. That the embers have continued smoldering over the summer, and now are being blown back into a conflagration.)

This isn’t a bad metaphor. But it’s become a cliche. Free copy of my book to anyone who can come up with a better metaphor/incantation for building enthusiasm. I’m all ears. Let’s replace this one before it gets really old.

Also, winter forecasters are calling it a Maybe-Not-So-El-Nino season. Some are leaning towards a weak El Nino or possibly a neutral year. Neutral is usually good for us. Very weak El Nino’s tend to be decent as well. Our biggest storm events have happened on neutral years.

So we have that going for us. Which is nice.

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The Trouble With Winter Forecasts

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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?