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Snowpack above average at end of 2012

Forecasters say La Niña/El Niño won’t be factors this winter

With the 100-inch benchmark already reached on the slopes of Mt. Hood Meadows, ski and snowboard enthusiasts have been licking their chops over one of the snowiest Decembers the mountain has seen in recent years. The resort opened before Thanksgiving and has seen a steady increase in snowpack since.

Over the last 10 days, the solid early season base had more than doubled as a series of cold, wet weather systems passed over the Cascades. For MHM operations, that meant the mountain’s entire portfolio was opened in time for the holiday break; quite a bit earlier than normal. As icing on the cake, the biggest dump of the season came in the form of 17 very merry inches on Christmas Day.

The applaudable start to winter has come in spite of reports in the fall that the Pacific Northwest will likely see a mild El Niño pattern. Caused by above-normal sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, El Niño conditions typically result in warmer and drier than average conditions for the region. Meteorologists stressed the word “mild” in their interpretations of this year’s data, however, and have stuck fairly close to the word “average” in their forecasting.

Official forecasting for the Pacific Northwest comes each year as the Oregon Chapter American Meteorological Society meets for its annual Winter Weather Forecast Conference. The event draws a few hundred meteorologists, forecasters and other weather aficionados from across the Pacific Northwest to talk trends, review data, prognosticate and summarize last winter’s actual weather to subtly shake salt in the wounds of those who miscalculated the prior year.

The consensus this year amongst the majority of forecasters at the conference is that El Niño/La Niña patterns will not be factors in Pacific Northwest weather this winter and that the door is open for a wide array of conditions over the next few months.

To track snowpack and annual moisture data, National Resource and Conservation Service maintains and monitors weather data sites across the Northwest. In the Mount Hood region, two such sites measure snow depth and snow-water equivalent at undisturbed locations on the south side of the mountain at 5,370 feet and on north side (Red Hill) at 4,410 feet.

Readings as of Friday show Mt. Hood Test Site at 48 inches SWE for the year (129 percent of average) and Red Hill at 51 inches SWE (125 percent of average).

Statewide data for snow-water equivalent shows the Mount Hood region at 132 percent of average. For Oregon snowpack, water supply and climate data, visit www.or.nrcs.usda.gov/snow.

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