Tag Archives: Pacific Decadal Oscillation

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?

Weekly High-Five Report


There’s been some serious high-fiving going on around our house this past week. Here’s a recap:

  • The ski industry broke a new record this season. After tallying up late-season skier visits (Crystal stayed open for skiing up until just a few weeks ago), the new record has been set: 60.54 million. A “skier visit” refers to one person skiing or riding on one particular day. With the late snow storms across the West, the mountains stayed in snow through Fourth of July weekend, when an estimated 50,000 people hit the slopes. That’s pretty awesome, so “high-five” skiers and riders.
  • Some long-range forecasts are calling for a severe winter in 2011-12. The forecasters over at Exactaweather.com have this to say about the weather in the PNW: “We expect North America and the Pacific Northwest region to experience a very severe winter, the Cascades snowpack is likely to see increased levels due to the negative (cold) phase of PDO.” PDO, or Pacific Decadal Oscillation,  is a climate pattern that occurs in the northern Pacific, in which the sea surface temperatures (ssts) fluctuate and affect the jet stream. In a nutshell, negative PDO means ssts are colder and that means more snow for us. Which, if you’re new here or haven’t been following along, is a good thing. In our house, we don’t talk about weather as a substitute for real conversation. Weather talk is real conversation. With mentions of “extremely cold temperatures”, “record breaker”, and “exceptional levels of snow” we’re grinning ear to ear over here. In addition to next season, entering a negative PDO phase, which usually last a few decades, means more La Niñas could be in our future. And hey, if I could throw a high-five up to the weather gods, or to La Niña herself, then I would.
  • On a personal note, John and I are headed to France for a few weeks. We plan to spend a few days in Paris, a few more in Chamonix and finish it up in Eze, a walled city perched on a cliff above the French Riviera.

I believe in gratitude karma. As long as we are grateful for our good fortune, it will continue. When we start taking it for granted, however, happiness slips through our fingers. Take a moment to say what you’re grateful for. Give yourself a high-five for small successes and surprising blessings. How about it? What are you grateful for this week?