What’s Up El Nino? Que Sera, Sera

El Nino TwoEvery couple years the national weather and ski blogs light up about an upcoming El Nino or La Nina event. A few brave climatologists take a stab at predicting how that will influence ski season snowfall. Headlines like “Strengthening El Nino Could Affect Colorado Weather”…”El Nino Relief for Drought-Stricken California”…and so on…and so on…

I admit, I used to consume these articles voraciously, trying to extract the information I sought. My thoughts would go something like this, “If wetter weather is expected in Oregon and Washington and colder weather is expected in Utah…here in between we could get super-cooled-epic-deep-powder all winter long, right?” Riiiight.

I kept waiting for the meteorologists and climatologists to pin-point a forecast just for West Central Idaho. But we always seem to be in a transition zone on the climate maps that makes our fortune harder to read. This year, the messages are even more cryptic than usual. And while I really enjoyed this article from Joel Gratz at Open Snow, other reports like this one sent my head spinning. They are a perfect example of just how imperfect the science of predicting weather ‘events’ can be.

El Nino

After years of gobbling up every report and update on the subject and taking myself on an emotional roller-coaster ride, (should I buy new powder skis? Will I jinx our forecast? Will we get ANY powder days over Winter Break?) I am proud to admit, I’m giving it all up. Cold turkey.

Why? Because in my decade of obsessive weather watching, I’ve never once seen one of these late-summer predictions come true here at Brundage Mountain. What’s more, there’s no consistent trend (even in hindsight) when we DO get an El Nino or La Nina.

So my approach this year: I will see what comes and take it for what it is.

For those of you not ready to give up the obsession, I thought I’d share a few statistics.

Here are the most prominent El Nino Years, followed by the cumulative season snowfall at Brundage, in inches.

2009/2010 – 245 inches

2006/2007 – 277 inches

2004/2005 – 200 inches

2002/2003 – 300 inches

1997/1998 – 390 inches*

1994/1995 – 305 inches

* 4th Biggest Snow Year on Record

As you can see, there is a GREAT variance in these totals. The 97/98 El Nino brought us nearly DOUBLE the amount of snow we got during the 04/05 El Nino.

Our average snowfall over the last five years has been 263″ and only one of our last 5 years has brought us a total over 300 inches. Three of the six El Nino years listed above brought us over 300 inches.

What’s my point? The maps and mapsters want to tell us that we are ‘Drier and Warmer than normal’ during El Nino years. That may be true of the whole NW region, but it’s not true for ski season at Brundage Mountain. (For what it’s worth, La Nina is just as confusing, not conclusively ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for us here at Brundage).

So follow the El Nino news roller coaster if you will, but I am going to disconnect from the news feed and fix my eyes on the sky.

Because when it comes to predicting snowfall, this little ditty keeps sticking in my head:

Que Sera, Sera
Whatever will be will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que Sera, Sera.

Besides, looking back, I’ve had great times on the slopes every season I’ve skied here, whether or not El Nino or La Nina decided to show up and join me.

– April

Here’s some proof: El Nino 2009/2010:



    • April says

      Hi Scott –
      We logged 390 in 97-98 and 430 (record high) in 98/99. According to our records, we had a nice little stretch of heavy snowfall years in the last half of the 90’s before a very light year in 2000/01. (Much like fashion, the snowfall in the late 80’s and early 90’s left something to be desired…)

      These are the snow totals for every year we have on record. I can vouch for everything this side of 2004 – prior to that we’re going on what’s in ‘the files’:

      280 88/89
      220 89/90
      245 90/91
      200 91/92
      275 92/93
      250 93/94
      305 94/95
      310 95/96
      400 96/97
      390 97/98
      430 98/99
      400 99/00
      225 00/01
      390 01/02
      300 02/03
      262 03/04
      200 04/05
      415 05/06
      277 06/07
      428 07/08
      267 08/09
      245 09/10
      385 10/11
      258 11/12
      198 12/13
      228 13/14

      The other factor I can’t account for with any certainly is exactly where the snow measurements were taken prior to 2004. Since then, we have been mostly using base area totals due to the systems we have in place on the mountain, but we are working on some ways to get consistent measurements from mid-mountain. I hope to share more details on those efforts soon.

      Ski ya,

  1. Wayne says

    Hi April!

    Couldn’t agree more, but I take a different approach… instead of just ignoring the whole forecast I just choose to ignore all but a few words. For example from your blog I took away the following:

    Blah, blah, blah “we could get super-cooled-epic-deep-powder all winter long,” Blah, blah, blah.

    See how well that worked? Now I’m totally STOKED!!

    See ya on the slopes! Can’t wait!

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