It’s the middle of August, the dog days of summer, and most of us are running around with shorts and t-shirts in 90+ degree temperatures. But, for those winter people out there you’ve probably noticed an increase in talk about this upcoming ski season. New 2012-2013 winter gear is starting to arrive at shops around the country and questions are being raised about this upcoming winter weather. After arguably one of the worst ski seasons on record I feel like Mother Nature owes us a good season this winter. I’ve read through many preliminary 2012-2013 winter forecasts from credible and somewhat not so credible sources and mixed in some of my own educated background in meteorology and climatology to give you my best prediction on what you can expect this winter.
First let’s talk about last winter 2011-2012. After an epic 2010-2011 record setting winter the web was flooding with comments about a possible repeat epic winter. This is largely due to a negative NAO (North Atlantic Oscillation) over the summer of 2011. During the winter a negative NAO correlates to cold temperatures and above average snowfall for the east and, 9 out of 10 times, a negative summer NAO leads to a negative winter NAO. What happened last winter was that 1/10 chance falling in to place when the NAO suddenly went positive as highlighted in Figure 1 below.
The large amounts of snow in the cascades and parts of Alaska can be attributed the La Nina winter but at the same time it was responsible for below normal snow packs around Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. With the exception of a few isolated cases like Fox Creek and Steamboat Springs Colorado the skiing was pretty pathetic for these states which also lead to the drought conditions and high fire dangers we’re seeing this summer in Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.
The good news is that the patterns that caused the historically warm and dry winter of 2011-2012 have almost or completely changed. In Figure 1 above you can see we are in a strong negative NAO and this should continue on through winter bringing cold temperatures and higher than average snowfall to the northeast. From the data I’ve seen it looks like we are also in for a weak El-Nino so the mid-Rockies (CO, UT, and WY) can expect a big improvement over last winter. Although they will see about average to slightly above average snowfalls there is still the possibility for localized record setters and let’s not forget that even an average winter for those states can be pretty epic. The weak El-Nino could be bad news for the north east and Montana because any kind of El-Nino event usually brings dryer and warmer conditions to these areas. But it’s only a weak El-Nino so it might not actually be that bad, it just won’t be as epic for the north west as last winter.
For those of you that skimmed past all of the above explanation, here’s the bottom line. Northeast, you could be in for an epic ski season; CO, UT, and WY can expect average temperatures and snowfall but still a heck of a lot more snow than last year. For the northwest and Montana it will be a little dry but probably not as bad as the mid Rockies saw last winter. For those of you that like to rely on the time tested forecasting methods here is the Farmer’s Almanac 2012-2013 winter forecast. It differs a little from mine but it’s still early and there are a lot of other factors that can dramatically change the winter forecast with short notice.