El Niño Be Damned

Mixed predictions for the winter 2023/2024 season

I started counting down the days to the start of the season back in June, like right after the solstice. What few friends I have got real tired real quick of hearing me say “One day closer to ski season.” But what else is there to do around here when winter comes to visit? Not much, unless you are into crafting or bowling. Hard pass for me on the former, and I totally suck at the latter. Even months ahead, my mind tends to wander to the colder months with a tempered excitement for what is to come. 

That said, as a skier I am also a realist when it comes to the season forecast. For the past three years, the PNW has been fortunate to experience back-to-back-to-back La Niña patterns, which translated to above-average and even great conditions. But our luck, it appears, has finally run out. With the exception of a few overly optimistic forecasting entities, the general consensus is we are in for a pretty mild winter around here, thanks to the warming of sub-surface water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. You guessed it: the dreaded El Niño has seemingly returned.

The climate prediction wizards at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are projecting a “greater than 95% chance of El Niño continuing during the December 2023 to February 2024 timeframe.” For those who are not familiar with this obscene term, an El Niño weather pattern typically results in our area experiencing above average temperatures and below average precipitation. While this obviously equates to a potential for less snow, I should point out that we have experienced some absolutely ripper storms even during El Niño years, so don’t lose hope. Did I just sugar coat that? Yep.

It’s pretty much the same spiel coming out of the Office of the Washington State Climatologist. Their models are indicating “a high chance (97%) that El Niño will persist through February, and it is likely that it will be a moderate to strong event.” Odds of warmer than normal temperatures occurring are higher for eastern Washington, though the possibility of average precipitation does exist for our region. If that is the case, we will gladly take any precip we can get, please.

On a positive note, the Farmer’s Almanac is projecting a more robust winter for our area. Utilizing a “top-secret mathematical and astrological formula, and taking sunspot activity, tidal action, planet position, and many other factors” into consideration, their forecast for Washington, Idaho and Oregon calls for an “unusually snowy and wet winter.” Oh yeah? How unusually snowy? Mega dumps measured in feet? Inquiring minds want to know. 

Laughing in the face of the naysayer scientists, the title of the 2023-2024 winter forecast from The Old Farmer’s Almanac says it all: WINTER WONDERLAND!  Yes, their title was in all caps, and no, I did not add the exclamation point. Now, I have no idea as to what their secret sauce is when it comes to cooking these forecasts up, but, man, I want to believe them. I really do. According to their weather prediction map, our region falls into the “Cold, Snowy” classification category. They go on to gush, “Along with above-normal snowfall, we’ll see normal to colder-than-normal temperatures in areas that typically receive snow. Expect just the right amount of chill in the air for a day of adventurous snow sports or enjoying a big ‘ol mug of hot cocoa.” If that does not paint a pretty picture, I don’t know what does. But whatever these folks are smoking, it would be great if they could share . . ..

Stay frosty, my friends. Think snow.

Brad Northrup spent over a decade working in the ski industry and has been a long-time contributor to Out There Outdoors.

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