El Nino Stages a Return 17
Author thumbnail By M. Scott Smith, DCSki Editor

Remember El Nino? It’s back.

The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center has been analyzing seasonally-averaged sea surface temperature data and has determined that a Pacific basin warm episode - affectionately known as El Nino - has now developed. The Climate Prediction Center uses various models that analyze anomalies in sub-surface temperatures throughout the central and east-central Pacific ocean.

Subtle temperature variations halfway across the globe can have a profound effect on worldwide climates, and El Nino is expected to once again impact the weather in the Mid-Atlantic region this winter. At this point, the ultimate impact on the skiing season is anyone’s guess.

El Nino last struck during the 1997-98 winter season, and the weather phenomenon was not kind to most resorts in the Mid-Atlantic. Milder temperatures, coupled with rain, kept slopes brown for much of the season. However, some resorts - such as Snowshoe Mountain Resort - had the right geography to buck the trend and attract snow.

Historically, El Nino tends to fluctuate both temperatures and precipitation from their average norms. The direction of the fluctuation is based largely on geographic location. For example, the 102-year average temperature for south-central Pennsylvania during the months of November and December is 35.5 degrees Fahrenheit. During El Nino years, the average temperature rises 2.1 degrees to 37.6 degrees. Local skiers know what a difference a couple degrees can make - most area resorts spend the winter on the borderline between acceptable and non-acceptable snowmaking conditions.

What about precipitation? In south-central PA, the 102-average precipitation between January and March is 9.04 inches. During El Nino years, the average falls to 7.62 inches. Thus, historically, El Nino raises temperatures and decreases precipitation in south-central PA. This pattern is repeated throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

In other parts of the country, El Nino can stack the cards in skiers’ favor. For example, average precipitation in the mountains of Colorado increases during El Nino years.

El Nino is not looked upon with anticipation by local resorts, but it is impossible to predict what impact it will have on the quality and quantity of snow on the slopes this winter. The higher average temperatures might reduce snowmaking opportunities, but the lower average precipitation might help by reducing the chance of rain. On the other hand, averages are just averages, and can have a range of values. And predictions are just predictions. It’s entirely possible this winter could be cold and snowy, even with El Nino lingering in the background.

About M. Scott Smith

M. Scott Smith is the founder and Editor of DCSki. Scott loves outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, kayaking, skiing, and mountain biking. He is an avid photographer and writer.

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Reader Comments

August 2, 2002
The long range forecasters were totally wrong about last winter (remember the predictions for a cold snowy winter)? I don't think I will bother paying attention to more long range forecasts, El Nino or not.
August 27, 2002
yeah, right on mitch. i remember the predictions for utah-like conditions. i also recall some predictions of a nasty hurricane season this summer. uh, yeah. bring it on, el nino!
August 27, 2002
yes- I agree with both of you. There has been too many mistakes with weather predictions in the last few years. I say we should just take each day as it comes.
August 27, 2002
What I have been doing lately is keeping up with just the opposite with what they are predicting. very seldom do they know what's going to happen, more than we do. Technology is great, but you'll never be able to control or be 100% accurate with weather.
September 3, 2002
...for snow. That is all you can do. Start your training (it will pay off on the slopes and in the hot tub!), tune your skis, and tune up the Jeep. If it doesn't snow, then it will be that much easier to hop on a plane to snowy climes. If it does snow... then you are ready to move given a moment's notice. Being a Mid Atlantic skier you know that this is essential - when it snows... you have to go or you miss out! Other than that don't worry about it!
September 3, 2002
And keep this in mind:

On 24 and 25 November 1971, Hagerstown, MD, received 15 inches of SNOW!

If this ever happens again, I'm ready. Whitetail, here I come....
September 5, 2002
This from the Climate Prediction center ... in my opinion it will be an average seasion ....

"..Although there is considerable uncertainty in the forecasts about the timing and intensity of the peak of this warm episode, all of the forecasts indicate that it will be much weaker than the 1997-98 El Nio. .."
September 7, 2002
El Nino may be bring more snow to the region instead of warm weather. My computers tell me that the Southeast and Mid Atlantic regions will get above average snow fall.
September 23, 2002
This also from Climate Prediction ... they are saying that the NAO (North Atlantic Oscillation) can't be predicted now so they are going with a "Normal" Winter for us....
October 6, 2002
this winter will be average with about normal snow fall for much of the great lakes, and mid atlantic.
October 6, 2002
here are what my computer models are telling me

Great lakes and Chicago: Near normal precipatation and temperatures.

Mid- alantic: Above normal temperatures and below normal precipatation.

Northeast: Normal to above temperatures and precipatation

South east: warmer and wetter than normal.

Rockies: above normal snow and near normal temperatures.

the whole Northwest ( california, oregon, washington, arizona) : will be below average precipatation and above normal temparatures.

this is what most of my computer models are suggesting for winter of 2002 and 2003
the following models that agree with the prediction are:

NoGaps model
Canadian model
european model
Mfr model
October 7, 2002
I found this on Snowshoe's web site:

Staying on the subject of weather, let's hear what Herb Stevens "The Skiing Weatherman has to say about the upcoming winter: "Another El Nino is going to be with us this season. The last time that occurred Snowshoe Mountain received also 200 inches of snow. That's the good news, the bad news, the resort also experience nearly 30 freeze thaws, which drives the snowmakers nuts."
November 2, 2002
well for the most part my models dont agree with where ever they are getting there models from. for the past few years my models have been correct. my models say that from north carrolina to maine will be colder and have between 3 and five large snow storms this season and a blizzard in febuary. they said that the temops were going to be on an avg of 2 to 4 degrees cooler the normal and between 4 and 12 more inches of snow this season
November 7, 2002
I am with jeff on that one.
November 19, 2002
if you go to wxrisk.com he predicts a fairly snowy and cold winter. this guy has been very accurate over the past decade with the exception of last year where it seems nobody got it right. so enjoy the ski season!!
January 7, 2003
canaan vly wv always bounces back from a bad year(last year was worst)with at least an average snowfall.150" average is snowy!75" so far(jan 6)I rest my case
January 26, 2004
so, El nino lasts 1-3 yrs right? so when eill the next one be? somewhere between 2004-09 righht?

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