Peter Hines

by Peter Hines
Webmaster and contributor

She's Back: La Nina to Bring More Snow This Season


By all accounts the 2010-2011 ski and snowboard season was epic. The La Nina weather pattern blanketed many parts of the United States and Canada with record amounts of snow. In the higher latitudes last year's snowfall was 30% higher than average. This translated into significantly increased skiing and riding at most resorts.

La Nina means "the girl" in Spanish. She is back and it looks like things are shaping up for another good snow season. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), La Nina conditions returned after a four-month hiatus and are expected to strengthen throughout the 2011-2012 winter. This is a result of lower than average water temperatures in the Central Pacific Ocean generally between Peru and the Southeast Asian Islands. The central Pacific Ocean is huge and temperature fluctuations can actually affect air currents all over the world. While this winter may not be as good as last season's, the initial indications are promising.

According to NOAA negative sea surface temperatures were observed in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. There was a strengthening of the below-average subsurface oceanic heat content anomaly (average temperature anomalies in the upper 300m of the oTemperature Mapcean).

These conditions bring an active northern Pacific storm track and a less active southern Pacific storm track. There is an increased chance of above average temperatures across the mid section of the United States. There is also an increased chance of higher than average precipitation in the Pacific Northwest which may carry across the rest of the country. This could result in flooding in lower elevations, but larger amounts than average of mountain snow. There is also a higher chance of below average temperatures in the upper part of the United States and Canada. These colder temperatures could carry all the way to the Northeast resulting in increased "lake effect" snowfalls in those areas downwind of the Great Lakes.

So what does this mean for skiers and riders in North America? Generally speaking the higher latitudes will have below average temperatures and lower latitudes will have higher than average temperatures. More precipitation coupled with lower temperatures generally means more snow in the higher latitudes. More snow results in better conditions. Better conditions means more skier and rider days on the mountains.

This is great news for skiers and riders, and the resorts. While many resorts, especially in the Northeast, relying heavily on snowmaking, more natural snow should result in lower operating expenses and longer seasons enabling the efficiencies to be passed along to the skiing and rider public.

This is a good time to get your equipment out and look it over. Check your clothing too. With the colder weather provided by La Nina we will all need to protect ourselves.

Several models indicate that we may see La Nina conditions for the next several years. Let's capitalize on it.

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