NOAA: El Nino gains strength!
December 12, 2006
I'm afraid that I have some BAD NEWS regarding the weather pattern that's likely to be in place for Winter in the Mid-Atlantic. According to NOAA's latest projections (as of Dec. 7) it's going to be a very mild Winter with less than normal snowfall. This is based on the El Nino gaining more strength than expected and the anticipated Northerly position of the warm Southern branch of the Jet Stream. Needless to say, I'm hoping that NOAA is wrong (they've been wrong before). After all, with the current record mild spell in Europe there has got to be a cold trend somewhere!
Did you pay attention to the hurricanes this year? It was a very mild season and they predicted the hurricanes would hit more of the east coast. They were correct that the hurricanes went east. But most of them never hit land and continued to stay out in the Atlantic.
I think the El Nino was playing a part in that also.
Criminy I hope they're right about the El Nino gaining strength. There hasn't been much snow to speak of in CO and UT since late October. We could use a better Pacific flow out here...
Experts can look at the same data and see vastly different conclusions. Dave Tolaris at wxrisk.com believes the data and patterns indicate El Nino has actually peaked, and will now weaken as we enter the winter months. He believes the next couple weeks will prove/disprove his hypothesis. Of course, there is no established consensus as to what El Nino actually does or does not do to the Mid Atlantic snow/cold forecast - so we will wait and see.
According to NOAA's latest projections (as of Dec. 7) it's going to be a very mild Winter with less than normal snowfall.
GREAT!!! That means we are going to get tons of snow! I always bet on the opposite of what the so called experts predict..................
Tom, I agree that it's still very difficult to tell how an El Nino is going to affect the weather. Because it takes lots of high-tech equipment to measure and track an El Nino, there isn't much long-term data. So far, we know that El Ninos are likely to reduce the number of hurricanes in the Atlantic, and bring more snow and cold to the Pacific Northwest. How an El Nino might affect the Winter weather in the mid-Atlantic is much more speculative. But there's at least some data that supports the trend of weak El Ninos bringing in lots of cold and snow while strong El Ninos result in mild and relatively dry Winters. From what I can tell, the strength of the current El Nino falls within the upper end of the moderate range. Of course NOAA was calling for a mild Winter in the mid-Atlantic and Ohio Valley before this El Nino (in the Pacific) was detected. And, like NOAA's current projection, most of the warm-up is to take place after mid-Jan. I think that, once we move into mid-Jan., the outlook for the rest of the Winter is going to become a lot clearer to the forecasters and we'll have a pretty good idea as to how the 2006-2007 ski season is going to rate. As an after-thought, I checked the 15 day forecast for Charlottesville, VA, which is close to Wintergreen. And, the weather looks pretty grim for snowmaking. Granted, Wintergreen has lots of elevation, but it's still going to be really mild up there, especially if there are a few temp. inversions. I have to wonder what X-mas week ski conditions are going to be like at Wintergreen.
This just in, the world might end tomorrow. That would really spell disaster for this mid atlantic ski season.
Thanks for adding some perspective to the weather and ski season.
I remember a real stong El Nino year back in 97..give or take a year. Living in the Dc Area then,I remember it being a very mild winter. Me & my Fiancee for life took off for Canaan & I was Pleasantly shocked at the snow cover from Mt Storm Lake thru davis & up to Canaan Heights. We stopped for Pics at Canaan Heights..there was at least a Foot of snow cover & with the plowed snowpiles it made for some great pics to show my non skiing buddies. I think Canaan Got 147 inches of snow that year...we will survive west of the FRONT!
I believe that the last strong El Nino was 97-98. It was the first Winter that I decided to buy a season pass at 7-Springs. Like this year, the season got off to a late start with some warm spells and rain in Dec. In a way, the rain was kind of welcome because it had been an unusually dry Summer and Fall with a resulting shortage of water for snowmaking at several ski areas. BK had very little water at the start of that Winter and experienced less than normal natural snowfall, which made for a rather difficult ski season. Fortunately, 7-Springs had just enough water (they don't call it 7-Springs for nothing) and was able to put together an OK season. But, I do remember lots of mild and sunny days when mid-Winter ski conditions were Spring like. Of course, 97-98 was much stronger than the current El Nino, so there's a fair chance that this Winter will follow a different pattern with a bit more cold and snow.
The 1997-1998 winter season was a disaster for most mid-Atlantic ski resorts, and the mildness that year was credited to El Nino.
I wrote an article for DCSki in September, 1997 describing El Nino and its potential impact on the mid-Atlantic: http://www.dcski.com/articles/view_article.php?article_id=41
That winter ended up being unseasonably warm, presenting very few opportunities for snowmaking at local resorts. Temperatures dropped into snowmaking range the end of December, allowing resorts to fire up the guns, but then rose into the 50's and 60's during the first week of January, 1998. Warm temperatures hung around for the next couple weeks, causing resorts such as Whitetail, Liberty, and Roundtop to close. By January 17, snowmaking was able to resume and resorts were able to re-open. Warm temperatures in late February once again caused many resorts to temporarily close; they re-opened briefly in mid-March after a round of snowmaking, but by then the season was effectively over.
But the season wasn't a washout for everyone. Snowshoe Mountain Resort actually received a healthy amount of snow throughout the season, thanks to its geography and elevation. And there were several snow storms across the region throughout the winter.
But on the whole, the season was a bust for a lot of resorts. Skier visits were down due to the temporary closings and subpar conditions. I believe the effects of El Nino that year played some role in Whitetail being sold from its original Japanese investors. Whitetail had been built in the early 1990's, at a significant investment; the first few years were flush with visitors, but then some lean years hit, making it difficult for the original investors to get an adequate return on investment.
I again wrote a story in July, 2002 describing the return of El Nino that year: http://www.dcski.com/articles/view_article.php?article_id=153
One could argue that El Nino also played a role in preventing Laurel Mountain from successfully re-opening on a permanent basis.
But, weather in the short-term is chaotic, and it's very difficult to predict what effect a weather pattern like El Nino will have on this region. During the winter we are often so close to the border between snow and rain; a slight shift in one direction can have a huge impact. And that border obviously changes based on elevation; as we saw in 1997-1998, it's very rare for all resorts in the mid-Atlantic to have a uniformly bad season. That season was pretty good for high-altitude West Virginia resorts. In other seasons, resorts closer to D.C. have actually received the majority of snow from some winter storms, leaving resorts further west dry.
There is another difference between today and past years. Local resorts have continuously invested in snowmaking improvements, and can now produce literally mountains of snow in three days or less. More and more resorts are installing computerized snowmaking systems, which automate many aspects of snowmaking and increase efficiency. With new tower-mounted airless guns, resorts can make higher volumes of snow at a lower cost than ever before. So resorts can really exploit windows of snowmaking opportunity. When Whitetail first opened, it had one of the most modern snowmaking systems in the world, and I remember people were impressed that the resort could go from bare ground to opening with about a week's worth of snowmaking. Now that's down to about three days. One could easily argue that the mid-Atlantic region has the most sophisticated and effective snowmaking in the world.
I think that....what's worrisome about this ski season is that we're coming off a very mild season and one could even argue that the Winter of 2004-2005 was also mild given the record (or near record) warm temps we experienced around early Jan. 2005. So, should the Winter of 2006-2007 turn out to be mild, it would be the 3rd warm Winter in a row, which might cause some of the investors in mid-Atlantic ski areas to take their money elsewhere.
Scott, your comments on snowmaking are right on... Being able to produce the goods no matter the weather pattern... That is the future of Mid-A resorts... From the sounds of it...it looks like lots of mountains in the Mid-Atlantic where able to open a good amount of top to bottom terrain plus terrain parks for opening weekend.... This is vary exciting for the Mid-Atlantic and shows that most resorts are really concentrating on getting terrain open early for thier guests... sounds like alot of these Mid-A resorts are letting their customers sample the goods for comptetive prices during opening days as well... ..
As an after-thought, I checked the 15 day forecast for Charlottesville, VA, which is close to Wintergreen. And, the weather looks pretty grim for snowmaking. Granted, Wintergreen has lots of elevation, but it's still going to be really mild up there, especially if there are a few temp. inversions. I have to wonder what X-mas week ski conditions are going to be like at Wintergreen.
Elevation may indeed make for marginal snowmaking at Wintergreen compared to Charlottesville. I just compared the point forecasts for the two (the Wintergreen forecast was for the top of the Highlands lift). With the exception of one night where it would be a couple degrees warmer, Wintergreen was consistently 4-5 deg F cooler and close to the magic temps needed for snowmaking. If the wet bulb is favorable, it could allow night snowmaking over the next 7 days, but it will be very marginal and not productive. Certainly not the cold weather and stellar snowmaking we have seen in the last week.
Going back to some previous discussions, this is the mild warmup I was talking about a couple weeks ago. I continue to expect ski areas can get through the warmup without losing much (if any) of the current terrain if the bases are deep enough from the past week's excellent snowmaking. We won't get back to normal cool weather until the end of the month. Spring skiing on deep bases will be the name of the game for the next couple weeks. I will be getting out my fat skis and trying to enjoy it as much as I can.
Well, you yourself have said before MM that seasons move in cycles, and I tend to agree with that. Three or four mild winters in a row shouldn't be surprising. Incidentally I think this is only the second mild one (potentially, the winter just began) for the Mid-Atl.
I remember the 1997-1998 winter, that was my first (and only) winter in CT. I skied the entire winter and did not once see natural snow fall while I was skiing unti Arapahoe Basin in June. However, I took my first trip out west that winter and went to Lake Louise, which was having it's best snow year in 30 years. So far, this winter has largely seen BC and the PNW getting slammed, so it appears to at least be off to a similar start to that one for some locales.
I couldn't agree more on the concept that mild Winters come in cycles. It was my thinking that last Winter was the 2nd mild Winter in a row, so perhaps we're near an end to that cycle and we'll get lots of cold and snow in 2007.
Hey Skier219, talk about mild weather, it looks like your area (Williamsburg, VA) might get lots of temps in the low to mid 60s over the next 2 to 3 weeks! So you might want to go biking, running, hiking, golfing or even boating.
Or he could do like I did... waste two perfect days (crystal clear blue skies high of 51) Christmas shopping and fixing my &%*#& computer.
Now is the time of year when, at least in Kansas City, rainy weekends are not such a bad thing!
At this point, I'm starting to get worried. I don't think that I've ever seen so much mild weather this late in the year. First, we had that record breaking warm spell (daytime high temp records were tied or broken from up-state NY to central VA) after Thanksgiving and most of us thought that we were done with the mild weather. Now, we're back to a very mild pattern that could last until well after X-mas. At this point, the best that could happen would be a shortened ski season (no more than 2 1/2 months at some ski areas) with lots of cold and snow. And, a worst case scenario...well, this season could be almost as bad as 97-98. My best guess is that the 2006-2007 ski season will end-up somewhere in between those 2 scenarios, which would make it a pretty lousy season.
Accuweather Professional is forecasting a return to below normal temps beginning around the 20th of December!!
Hope this holds!
At this time of the year looking at the Pacific is just pointless. The North Atlantic Oscillation is the make or break weather phenomenon. With that in mind, things are looking up for next week:
Notice that the great huge upsweep from Alabama to Erie is gone, and the winds are blowing straight(ish) out to sea.
Agreed, see my post on 12/11 at 10:14.
I remember a real stong El Nino year back in 97..give or take a year. Living in the Dc Area then,I remember it being a very mild winter. M
95-96. Warm Christmas. Balmy New Years'. We had a HUGE snowfall in the city though, that shut things down for four days, and we didn't get a snowplow on my street until Sunday 2 am. I was scheduled to be up at 4 to drive to Canada . . . Sure enough, the snowplow wasn't even a snowplow but a front-end loader. A diesel front-end loader that sat outside my window rap-rap-rap-rapping for 35 mins after which both the GF and I gave up sleep and started throwing things into the car.
Well, everyone thought we were krazy for driving to Canada to find snow when there was so much about. Except (I'm told) that everything melted in the 55-60F Tuesday, only to freeze and get another snowstorm on Weds, then completely dry out. After having shoveled enough snow the previous week to make a walled bunker of the corridor between mine and the neighbours' (we were in the sharing videos & cooking ingredients phase) I came back to the mere outline of it on the grass.
96/97 was actually a pretty good year here. I remember decent snow at 7S almost into April. Good thing, too as I was at Breck most of Jan.
Interesting chart, although the Southern branch of the Jet Stream appears to have weakened a bit, there's still not much of a dip in the Northern branch of the Jet over the mid-Atlantic. I believe that this pattern would result in cool days and cold nights (near normal temps) North of the Mason-Dixon line, although many areas below the Mason-Dixon line might remain somewhat above normal.