clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Was El Niño the Cause of California's Latest Round of Snow?

New, 18 comments

It's been a good start to the week in ski country, with resorts all over the west reporting double-digit snow totals from the most recent storm. No one is happier than skiers in drought-ravaged California, where new snow will allow Mammoth Mountain and Tahoe's Mt. Rose to open this week. It's even snowing in Big Bear, where snowmaking crews have the guns blazing and their fingers crossed. Is this the El Niño present sent from the snow gods after four long years of drought? Not so fast, say two California meteorologists.

Open Snow meteorologist Bryan Allegretto is just as stoked as the rest of us about all the snow. But he and Reno-based National Weather Service meteorologist Zach Tolby both told the Tahoe Daily Tribune that Tahoe and most of California as a whole won't really see the effects of El Niño until January.

More on early-season skiing:
Check Out These Photos of Snow at Mammoth, in Black & White
The Best Ski Resorts for Thanksgiving Weekend
When Ski Areas Are Opening for 2015-2016 Season
Killington is 1st Resort Open in North America for 2015-16 Season

El Niño is the strong warm-water mass in the Pacific that can sometimes yield strong winter snow totals, especially in the southern half of the western United States. And there's a good chance that this winter will be a strong El Niño. It just hasn't really gotten going yet. As Tolby told said of Monday's storm, ""I think it's important to understand that every El Niño is different. The correlation with receiving above average precipitation is highest in January through March."

So what caused this week's November snow? Allegretto credits an active early snow pattern that can often occur in Tahoe, but has been absent the last few years. As he writes on his Daily Snow forecast for November 4, "We are in a great pattern right now with the ridge staying North of Hawaii keeping the storm door open. Another cold storm will drop down the West Coast next Friday the 13th....Even more interesting is the ensemble runs of the forecast models all in decent agreement that the pattern holds into the week of the 16th when some stronger storms could drop into the West Coast."

So don't go rushing to credit El Niño for the current white gold on the ground. Wait until January to see what this year's monster weather pattern will really bring.