The ski season will depend on La Nina

If your NFL team is touted as a top Super Bowl contender before the first aspen leaf begins to turn, would it be enough for you to book a hotel room in Super Bowl city and Looking for tickets for the big match?

Most people wouldn’t because way too many variables can come into play by February. And that’s why meteorologist Joel Gratz, who specializes in Colorado mountain forecasting, places as much importance on long-range snow forecasts as he does on preseason Super Bowl ratings.

Gratz, founder of OpenSnow, a highly regarded weather forecasting and reporting service for skiing and snowboarding, believes that the only forecasts worth betting on are those that predict what will happen five to ten days from now. . Anything beyond that, even by highly skilled meteorologists with access to sophisticated computer models, is just educated guesswork as far as he is concerned.

“It’s like projecting who’s going to be in the Super Bowl at the start of the season,” Gratz said. “It doesn’t really matter, because you’re going to watch the games anyway, and you’re going to see a lot of surprising things happen. And maybe some things that you think can happen will actually happen.

Nevertheless, we are one week away from September, Labor Day ski sales are behind us, skiers and snowboarders are starting to dream of powder turns, and two or three ski areas are likely to produce snow by now. a month. Or so we can hope.

And there are long-term forecasts to consider. The 90-day forecast from the National Weather Service‘s Climate Prediction Center suggests that rainfall in Colorado will be below normal and temperatures will be above normal. The Old Farmer’s Almanac says eastern Colorado will be cold and dry this winter, while the western half of the state will be mild and wet.

Then there’s the La Niña effect, a phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean based on surface water temperatures that tends to produce above normal snowfall north of us when it occurs. . Meteorologist Sam Collentine, one of Gratz’s colleagues at OpenSnow, says this could be good news for Colorado snowmobilers this winter as a strong La Niña has developed in recent months.

“These are the coolest temperatures we’ve seen in the eastern central Pacific for the month of August since 2010,” Collentine said. “That tells us there’s a pretty robust build-up of La Niña right now, and when we look back at the last significant La Niña event, it was a very healthy year of snow – not just for Colorado , but for the entire western United States.”

But Collentine admits that long-term forecasts are “rarely accurate” and Gratz is skeptical. Because La Niña tends to favor the northern United States with above-normal precipitation, he believes the impact this winter will be felt in British Columbia, Washington, northern ‘Idaho, Montana and possibly northwest Wyoming. Trip to Jackson Hole, anyone?

“If this is a year you’re thinking about taking a trip, the Pacific Northwest might be a place to watch,” Gratz said. “For Colorado, snowfall is simply not strongly correlated with El Niño and La Niña. You can unravel the numbers and find correlations here and there, but it’s just not as much of a slam dunk as it might be elsewhere. We’ve had La Niña seasons that have been fantastic and we’ve had La Niña seasons that haven’t been so great.

“It’s a stronger La Niña, but there are a lot of things that have to line up that really aren’t predictable six months ahead to know if we’re going to get a lot of snow.”

Gratz has been forecasting Colorado weather for 15 years. Early on, he became interested in studying potential correlations between mountain snowfall and La Niña, thinking he might find a way to make reliable seasonal snowfall forecasts. He could not.

“The more you get into the forecasting game, the more often you see how things can go wrong, or not ‘obey’ your forecast,” Gratz said. “You become much more shy about things that you think don’t have strong correlations. A lot of meteorologists I know are just not that keen on making long-range forecasts. They are not very precise. It’s just a matter of looking at the weather in five to 10 days and trying to make the call.

“If I thought we could really provide a useful six-month or three-month forecast, I would.”

So how does a powder ski enthusiast like Gratz plan his ski trips? He acts on short-term forecasts like the ones he and other OpenSnow meteorologists do for western ski areas and beyond.

“There’s a 100% chance of snow this winter, so I’m pretty excited and ready to go skiing,” Gratz said. “I’m going to hunt powder based on a 5-10 day forecast. Anything beyond that is speculation.

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