Climatologists concur: La Nina coming back

November 2, 2011

Several hundred people were in attendance at OMSI Saturday for the annual Oregon Chapter American Meteorological Society Winter Weather Forecast Conference. The annual who's who of meteorologists, climatologists and various other weather geeks featured a fairly unanimous prediction that this winter, like last, will see cooler, wetter weather associated with La Niña conditions in the Pacific Ocean.

For residents of the Hood River Valley and frequenters of Pacific Northwest ski resorts, a La Niña winter means increased likelihood of more frequent, more intense, colder and wetter storms, particularly in January and February. Back-to-back La Niña years are not uncommon, and meteorologists say that cold sea temperature anomalies are again strengthening in the eastern half of the Pacific Ocean.

"We're all pointing toward the same answer, which is a good sign that the science is really working quite well," Kyle Dittmer, hydrologist and meteorologist said at the conference. "And right now it's looking to be a really good winter, for the mountain people."

Mountain people, he agreed, can expect a fairly average start to the season, with more intense stormy weather kicking in mid-winter. Most mountain snowpacks will likely be above-normal by late January.

Seasonal forecasts are based largely on 10-year trends and 30-year averages, said Dave Elson, National Weather Service meteorologist. He noted that La Niña conditions are expected to gradually strengthen and persist into winter months. Odds favor above-average precipitation, normal or cooler-than-normal temperature conditions and another active winter weather pattern.

Ski hills are bare at the moment, but snow did reach mid-elevations on Mount Hood in early October with a few-inch dusting at Mt. Hood Meadows before most leaves in the area had changed colors. Snow is in the forecast through the weekend, with a special weather statement issued Tuesday by the National Weather Service.

The statement says, "After a mild Tuesday and Wednesday, a strong cold front will move into the region Wednesday night. Snow levels will drop to around 3,500 feet late Wednesday night, and to between 2,000 and 3,000 feet later Thursday. This will bring several inches of snow … and snow will likely fall in the higher elevations of the Cascade foothills and the coastal mountains."

Although the storm won't be enough to open ski resorts, it is likely a good sign of things to come. Last winter Mt. Hood Meadows opened before Thanksgiving; which tends to be the benchmark of a great start to a new season. With a total snowfall of about 52 feet and a peak base of 162 inches, last year was indeed a great season on the slopes.

And for this year, according to forecasters with the "Magic 8-ball": The outlook is good.

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