After a January that was filled with tons of powder for most ski areas in the west, February has been fairly dry. Temperatures in the Tahoe Basin have been 15 degrees above average with nary a snowflake in sight, and in Colorado skiers have used more sunscreen than fat skis in the past week. Meanwhile, in southern California the forecast for Big Bear looks more like spring than the middle of winter. The warm and dry weather have many asking: what happened to the Super El Niño we've been talking about all winter?
Throughout the west this season, the El Niño hype has been real. The record-breaking weather phenomenon has resulted in better snow coverage than last year, an increase in skiers on the mountain, and even for some ski areas to open for the first time in five years.
As is fairly typical in an El Niño year, east coast skiing has suffered. After the warmest December on record and little January snow, two Vermont ski areas were forced to close mid-week to try to preserve snow conditions. One New York ski area has decided it won't open at all this winter.
Now, the weather pattern has shifted, with a high pressure ridge forming in the west and a stormier trough in the east. The meteorologists at Open Snow say that the current pattern should persist through about February 25th, with a small possibility of a few weak storms breaking through (accumulations less than 6 inches). This is good news for skiers in the east, as much colder temperatures and decent snow accumulations (at least in Vermont and New Hampshire) mean that conditions should finally improve.
So what about El Niño? It's important to remember that a few weeks of dry weather doesn't mean El Niño has disappeared. El Niño is a long-term weather phenomenon. The predictions of a wetter winter for the west and dryer winter for the east have so far played out fairly accurately, and this year's strong El Niño will continue through spring.
For right now, the west-coast high pressure ridge reigns supreme.
· Open Snow [Official Site]
· Warm, dry spell not a cause for snowpack concern yet [Sierra Sun]