The overview for this winter shows a switch from a strong El Nino pattern — often creating drier and mild weather conditions — to La Nina bringing wetter weather.
Last winter’s ski and snowboard season was one for memory lane, and now many are focusing on this winter, which has the potential to be filled with plenty of powdery days.
“I’m pretty optimistic about the upcoming season,” said Larry Schick, a longtime local meteorologist who offers “powder alerts” at powderpoobah.com.
“We should be in for big changes, and much more normal winter temperatures and precipitation,” Schick said. “While we can’t rule out the warm storms even in cold years, overall we’ll be in a consistent weather pattern.”
The overview for this winter shows a switch from a strong El Nino pattern — often creating drier and mild weather conditions — to La Nina bringing wetter weather especially to the northern sections of the country.
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It also means water in the southern Pacific Ocean is cooling, and the storm tracks tend to favor places like the Pacific Northwest with above average amounts of snowfall.
“A weak La Nina or cool weather pattern is a good place for us to be in, and I would deem it as robust and active,” Schick said. “It will likely open the gates to be a more normal winter and storm track.”
The short-term weather maps don’t show any signs of blocking ridges of high pressure that tend to shift the wetter weather to the north.
Excitement already is building with stormy weather in recent days leaving mountaintops covered with snow at Alpental, Whistler-Blackcomb, Crystal Mountain, Stevens Pass and Mount Baker.
“We’ve already had some dusting of snow, and certainly the surrounding hills of the ski area have snow,” said Gwyn Howat, the Mount Baker Ski Area operations manager. “We’re definitely full steam ahead with early season prep work in order to be ready for anything that comes our way.”
Howat also has been following the forecasts closely throughout the summer.
“It looks like it will be a winter party, and there’s lots to be optimistic about at this point,” Howat said. “Even if it goes more toward a neutral weather pattern, it bodes well for us. Part of the excitement in this sport and business is we’re dependent on the weather and Mother Nature has the final call. You need to live in the moment and deal with it as it comes.”
Taking a step back in time, many will recall the La Nina winter season of 1998-99, which was termed unforgettable for snow hounds.
That winter, Mount Baker recorded a world record snowfall total of 1,140 inches in a season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said.
The previous record was 1,122 inches in 1971-72 at Paradise on Mount Rainier.
The snowfall last winter reversed expectations in what should have been back-to-back downer years, and as a result skier and snowboarder turnout to the mountains was positive.
“I would classify the past winter season as excellent, especially if you compare it to (2014-15),” said John Gifford, the president of the Pacific Northwest Ski Areas Association. “We had lots of snow, and lots of visitors to the local ski areas.”
Visitors to Pacific Northwest area resorts were up 142 percent over the previous year, and was the largest increase on record.
This was attributed to an early winter season that created strong snow bases at ski areas from late November through early January. While there were pockets of dry spells, another round of snowfall in late February and March allowed many areas to stay open well into spring.
Destinations such as the Mount Baker Ski Area received 622 inches of snow, and put it on the top-10 list of snowfall totals in North America.
Other Washington resorts that hit the century mark (100 inches or more) of snowfall were Crystal Mountain, Alpental, White Pass, Stevens Pass, Bluewood and 49 Degrees North.
In British Columbia, mega-resort Whistler-Blackcomb — located about two hours north of Vancouver — had a cumulative snowfall of 486.6 inches through mid-May. Its snowiest month was December with 133 inches, and March was a close second with 124 inches.
In Oregon, Timberline Resort had 525 inches, Mount Hood Meadows got 476 inches, and Mount Bachelor was a close third with 470 inches.
According to the website SnowBrains.com, seven Pacific Northwest resorts ranked in the top 10 in the U.S. for snowfall totals this past winter. Alyeska in Alaska took top honors with 824 inches.