September 14, 2009

Should you take a chance on a season ski pass this winter?

Do you feel lucky?

Several of you have asked about the outlook for this coming winter...and specifically what it implies for the ski season. Should you buy that season pass at Snoqualmie Summit or Stevens?

I hesitate to answer this question...I am already in big enough trouble with KING-5 for teasing them about my favorite Jim Forman....I don't want the Washington State Ski Owners Association on my case. So I won't give you a specific recommendation. Just some information.

This is going to be an El Nino in which the tropical Pacific is warmer than normal. Take a look at the latest data over the Pacific (see attached). Meteorologists pay particular attention to the Nino3.4 area, and you can see it and adjacent sections of the tropic Pacific are now well above normal and are predicted to warm further this winter.

During El Nino winters the Northwest tends to be warmer than normal and a bit drier than normal (see figures). Cascade snowpack tends to be less. Remember this is a statistical relationship. There is a correlation with less snow during El Nino years in our mountains and in the lowlands. We will probably see less snow than last year (which ended up a surprise La Nina year). The Seattle Dept of Transportation will have an easier year, pretty much for sure.

Should you get that season ski pass? To quote Clint Eastwood: "Do you feel lucky?"


  1. I was confused over this part:
    During El Nino winters the Northwest tends to be warmer than normal and a bit cooler than normal

  2. Damn. I was hoping the fix would include "wetter and colder"

    El Nino==ski FAIL?

  3. And to be a total pedant ... that should be Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry not High Plains Drifter.

    e.g. Dirty Harry image

    Though I'm not sure you'd like looking down the barrel of a 44 Colt Magnum.

    Mordecai: What happens after?
    The Stranger: Hmm?
    Mordecai: What do we do when it's over?
    The Stranger: Then you live with it

    Seems almost appropriate for skiers :-)

  4. I don't give a darn about ski conditions, but I'm really pleased about the forecast from a winter gardening of root vegetables perspective!!

    And last winter was a bit much.

    Blame it on me... I put an ad on Craigslist last December before Cliff predicted the big windstorm that didn't materialize... paid someone with a Subaru $50 to drive me to get one of the last generators in Issaquah. Couldn't imagine living without heat with my 8 month old baby for any length of time. It's all MY fault. LOL

  5. Cliff, with the PDO being negative does this have any effect on the warmer than normal winter associated with El Nino? Is there a chart with only say 42-78 time period?

  6. I am wondering about the PDO interplay with El Nino as well?

  7. El Nino described:

  8. More on the current el nino:

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  10. So I guess one deciding factor may be if Jim Forman buys a season pass.

  11. mjgrota is well known for his unusually developed sense of humor!

  12. It's hard to think about skiing with such a beautiful day as today...

  13. I'm actually wondering if summer weather is going to end. This is Seattle - four months of non-stop warm weather is traumatic ;-) I'd like to put my summer clothing away and start at least wearing long-sleeved shirts on a regular basis. What say you, when we will cease getting these ridges with warm weather? Will there ever be a fall?

  14. No,the first day of fall will be in the low 80's. Nice, extraordinary and perfect. I'm lovin' it! I think this is looking like 1987 or 88' again.

  15. hey Cliff... any chance of a lead in about precipitation in addition to temps? I'm ina flood plain and warm weather usually indicated a 'pineapple express' and we head for the hills. :(

  16. if it is 88, the the feb of 89 we had a HUGE snowstorm here in centralia/chehalis.

  17. OK, remember when we had the big argument about heat/humidity/dew points? Here's a place on Earth (admittedly, not at the surface) that has a temperature of 50C (122F) and a relative humidity over 90%, leading to a humidex temp of 105C (228F)!! These unique conditions have created what is IMO one of the most amazing things I have ever seen... the world's largest crystals.

    Thanks to whoever turned us on to; this site was linked to on their page for today. Cool stuff!!

  18. I'm really happy to have found this blog. My husband and I have a farm in the Kent Valley and have always prided ourselves and supported ourselves by selling fresh, winter vegetables. We are seriously threatened this year by the weakened dam on the Green River and it's too late to plant winter crops anywhere else, for this winter's harvest. I am encouraged by your explanations and confidence that this is supposed to be an El NiƱo winter. Let's hope so, for all of us valley dwellers who have believed ourselves safe for the last 50 years.

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.

  19. Re the PDO comments, the PDO is currently considered to have returned to a cool phase. Historically, cool phase PDO appears to moderate (offset) the effects of El Nino. The PDO record in modern observations (not including paleo reconstructions) is relatively short for statistical analysis, however -- perhaps 100 years of record for a 30-50 year cycle. So for many it is still a matter of faith to buy into PDO effects. And then there is the issue of temperature trend effects...a whole 'nother topic!

  20. I bought a season pass, I guess I do feel lucky...or optimistic. last year ended up nice after a rough start.

  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

  22. please tell me this is the LAST week of hot weather... its supposed to be 89 this week in chehalis.... AAGHHHH!!!

  23. Cliff - could you address the magnitude of the SST anomalies that are shown in the graphic relative to other El Nino year trends? Can the current SST indicate the strength of the forecast El Nino, and do we have enough data to understand the temp/ppt implications?

  24. Sounds like MT. Baker may be a better ski pass to buy.

  25. Bill Patzert, a NASA/JPL climatologist, is Southern California's equivalent to Cliff Mass. In SoCal, he's the media's favorite "go-to guy" for questions and comments on weird weather.

    Lately, Patzert's been saying that the El Nino predicted for this winter will be a weak one.

    This would be bad news in Southern California, which desperately needs a wet winter.

    What do you think, Cliff? Is the predicted El Nino going to be a non-event?

  26. I'd love to see a historical view of El Nino years and the effect on the PNW snow fall. Any links to such a correlation? Even a list of years and El Nino status would work.

  27. The real question is during El Nino years what areas get the snow... AK,CA, CO, UT, BC ? its a matter of road trips if we get too warm here. load the sleds and a few cases of PBR and were off


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