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SKI SEASON UPDATE | Trouble Brewing?

Is El Niño the kiss of death for the ski season?

Tyler Hamilton

Tuesday, November 20, 2018, 5:40 PM - Is trouble brewing with the upcoming ski season? Is El Niño a fatal blow, or just a little snag for the ski season of 2018-2019? Read on to find out.

It's here! Check out The Weather Network's full 2019 Winter Forecast


Keep on top of active weather by visiting the ALERTS page.

So here we stand, plowing through the month of November, and there's rumblings of trouble and delayed ski hills openings in parts of British Columbia. Are we in poor shape? Is the ski season cancelled? I'll show you why we will likely salvage the ski season, and even do just fine in some locations across the province.

Let's look at a current snowpack imagery with the help of satellites and compare it to last year for a reference point.

CHECK out your ski resort current conditions, right HERE

As of Tuesday, there's still no snowpack on Vancouver Island (mildly unusual), although this will change some with a series of frontal systems targeting the coast.

Big differences exist in the Coastal Mountain range and North Shore mountains. The Columbia and Rocky Mountain ranges are fairing the best, but it's still a relatively big drop off from the stellar snowpack that accumulated in the fall of 2017.

Don't panic, yet...although normally, an El Niño will bring less snow than normal snowfall, it's typically not substantially less. 

Three of the recent strongest El Niño's are 1982 and 1997 and 2015, but those were strong events compared to our current one, which is forecast to be on the weaker side. Consequently, those particular years had less in the way for snowfall (~20% below typical average snowpack) and may be a fairly good proxy of what to expect for 2018-2019 season. It's a correlation and there is an association between El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) conditions and the snowpack in the Pacific Northwest, but it's far from perfect.

Just for fun, let's look back at a few weaker El Niño years for Whister Mountain:


  • NEAR NORMAL: 30%

So, don't be surprised if we can claw our way closer to a near normal snowpack across parts of the province this winter season. Another key is holding onto the snowpack we receive, and if we have lower than normal warm atmospheric river events that would bode well for the precious snowpack accumulated in an El Niño winter.

Long range models have started to suggest that ridging will tend to dominant a little more as we enter December over the Pacific Northwest, which will keep our active storm systems muted and less persistent, with all primary trough action in eastern Canada (burrr). 


A quick note. 

We should keep our guard up through early 2019. It appears that some of the strongest windstorms in Pacific Northwest history tend to occur with near neutral ENSO conditions. Here's the evidence below (courtesy: Cliff Mass), so there is likely a relationship, but it's far from perfect. The sample size of destructive windstorms is also relatively small, so keep that in mind as well.


Well, this article wasn't devoted to those of you in eastern Canada, because we expect a mostly phenomenal ski season for Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes – with some of the earliest ski openings in the mid-1990's already recorded in the month of November. B.C. has had several outstanding ski seasons in a row, with only five below normal snowfall years at Whistler the past 15 years.

We have high confidence for a great ski for eastern Canada, so enjoy the slopes!


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