With the Ski Fever & Snowboard Show behind us, and with this most recent storm dropping a lot of snow in the mountains, many of you might be wondering what this winter will be like. You’ve probably heard that this is expected to be an “El Nino winter”. El Nino is a semi-regular phenomenon characterized by warmer than usual water and weaker than usual winds in and over the Pacific Ocean near the equator. These ocean temperature and wind pattern changes affect weather patterns throughout the United States and the world.

In the Pacific Northwest, El Nino winters are typically a little warmer than usual. But the amount of rain and snow is a lot more variable. For example, at Mount Hood Meadows, their second-snowiest winter on record occurred during an El Nino winter. But one of the most disastrous snow seasons on record, the winter of 2004-2005, was also an El Nino winter. Those are two extreme examples. Most El Nino winters bring snowfall that is not too far from average, with the extreme winters being rare (and impossible to predict in advance).

One positive aspect of El Nino winters is that more often than not, the snow tends to arrive early in the Cascades. I believe we’re seeing that this year. That big late October snowstorm dropped nearly two feet of snow at the higher ski areas, but warmer rain immediately following the storm melted the snow away. That’s the way it works in October, as the snow comes… and goes. But November snow typically grows… and stays! And while this most recent storm brought enough snow to open some runs at Timberline and possibly Mt. Hood Meadows later this week, all Oregon’s ski areas, are starting to build a healthy base. And with more storms on the horizon, the start of the 2009-2010 skiing/boarding season appears imminent!

So… wax your boards and get your gear organized. And keep checking your e-mail, as my first “Powder Alert” could hit your inbox anytime now!

Think snow,

Drew Jackson
KPTV FOX 12 meteorologist

Editor’s Note: Sign up for Powder Alerts by visiting Ski Oregon

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