I appreciate the hundreds of requests and comments around the world from twitter, linkened and other sources with regards to my offering a weather commodity newsletter. This would be simple to understand, timely, and offer the best long range weather forecasts in multiple industries from commodities, to global climate concerns, ski weather, weather and health and travel ideas.
There has been much discussion about the incredibly snowy ski season out west, the end of the California drought and potential for severely cold United States winters ahead the next few years due to an extended, upcoming “solar minimum.” However, giving the possibility of global warming and climate change, the warming oceans and history of the unpredictability forecasting volcanic eruptions that can alter the climate, the topic remains highly controversial. Making blanket one-sided statements is irresponsible and sensationalistic, in my opinion.
In this report, I discuss the implications that a low solar cycle, combined with an El Nino has probably been a key factor in the record western snows this winter and end of the California drought. However, in my view, the warming oceans, brought on by global warming has likely also been a factor.
Record Western Ski Season will continue through April. Why?
Squaw Valley, California had their greatest February snowfall ever with 315″ and places like Snowbird, Utah (“The Greatest Snow On Earth”) is on pace to have more than 630″ of total snow this winter. This would be the 3rd highest ever snowfall recorded at Snowbird. Previous records were the winter of 1951-52 (641″) and 1983-84 (688″) and the weather the weather pattern looks, I expect another 30-50″ of snow across many areas from Tahoe to Snowbird, Utah, Colorado and even ski resorts in Arizona over the next 10-15 days.
Low Sunspot Activity or El Nino? What has caused the incredible western snows and end of the droughts?
But what is causing this? After all, the last El Nino phenomena (2014-16), was a dud as far as western moisture goes (California’s multi-year drought only worsened), when historically big snows and rains hit the west during “some” El Nino events. While commodities such as sugar, coffee and rice were affected by the most recent strong (2014-16) El Nino in Southeast Asia, much of the western United States baked in droughts. This winter, the combination of low solar activity, coupled with a weak El Nino could, together, be the reasons for the incessant western moisture. But again, there are other factors at play in predicting global climate.
Could solar cycles be to blame for the most recent western droughts, brush and forest fires which wiped out millions of acres of land including some California wineries? I doubt it. Weather is cyclical. The previous western droughts could be a combination of global warming and the fact that we needed to see both an El Nino and low solar activity at the same time to break the drought! ( See my remarks at the bottom of this report) .
Now that we are entering an extended solar minimum (few sunspots/storms on the sun), is the near record western winter snows due to the inactive sun?
Let’s look at Snowbird, Utah as one example. The greatest winter snowfall totals since 1950 were the winters of 1951-52; 1957-58; 1963-64; 1964-65; 1966-67; 1968-69; 1974-75; 1981-84 (3 year cycle of >550″ of snow); 1994-95; 2008-2009; 2010-2011. The yellow stars on the graphs above show periods of the greatest winter snows aligned with the different solar cycles. Closer scrutiny reveals that there is a tendency for a great ski season out west (again, in this example, we are looking at Snowbird, Utah), during periods of low sunspot activity. However, there were exceptions. For example, the great ski seasons from December, 1981 all the way through April of 1984 occurred when there was an active sun (see cycle 21). In addition, the winters of 1965-69 occurred after, not during, a solar minimum.
El Nino and Cosmic Rays
Many meteorologists feel that the incessant western snows and easing of the California drought ( will be a huge blessing for thousands of farmers), has been due to El Nino. However, in nearly half of the listed snowiest winters at Snowbird, Utah, described above, there was either a La Nina or La Nada (neutral year).
Volcanic activity, El Nino, as well as the warming of the oceans due to Climate Change, are in my opinion, at least as important, if not more so than solar cycles. However, when correlated together, El Nino with low solar activity seems to be a better “weather pattern” predicator.
So what about El Nino? There is a correlation with low solar activity increasing what we call Cosmic Rays that can contribute to more cloudiness along the equator and affect the Trade Winds and contribute to El Nino. However, there are also many El Nino’s, which occurred, not because of a solar minimum but due to other climatic variable. Nevertheless, the present weak El Nino probably never would have happened if it was not for the low solar activity.
Cosmic rays are energetic particles that originate in space and our sun and collide with particles as they zip through our atmosphere. “Solar Cosmic Rays”(SCR’s – cosmic rays from the sun) originate in the sun’s chromosphere. Most solar cosmic ray events correlate relatively well with solar flares. Cosmic rays can affect the earth by causing changes in weather and possibly long term climate. Moving at close to the speed of light, these nuclear fragments smash into air molecules hard enough to knock electrons loose. This well-documented process creates negatively and positively charged ions. During low sunspot activity (like we have now).
The most well-documented connection between the sun and Earth effects, other than the total sunlight, is in the cosmic rays received. It is believed that this is caused by the solar magnetic field being weaker at solar minimums, which lets more cosmic rays penetrate into Earth’s atmosphere. Hence cosmic rays are at a maximum when solar activity is at a minimum.
The chart above shows solar cycles (green lines) from 1950 to 2010. The red arrows represent El Nino events and the blue arrows La Nina events. At first glance there appears to be “some correlation” with El Nino events typically occurring at lower solar cycles and high Cosmic Rays. However, this theory remains controversial, just as the “Global Warming-Climate Change-Solar Cycle topic” has remained immensely controversial.
According to two solar physicists, Robert Leamon from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and Scott McIntosh from the High Altitude Observatory at Boulder, CO, they have made an interesting observation that links changes in solar activity with changes in the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), (see the chart above) but state that it is “clear that solar activity” is not the only factoring affecting El Nino.
In a separate study several years ago, according to Eddie Haam, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Harvard University, ” Both the 11-yr solar cycle and the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomena are quasi periodic. There have been claims that the two are correlated (Solar Cycles and El Nino/La Nina). However, both phenomena are also highly autocorrelated. Caution should be exercised when testing for the statistical significance of the correlation of two autocorrelated time series. There is so far no solar ENSO (El Nino/La Nina) connection found that is statistically significant.”
My point is that there are many factors affecting global climate. Putting too much faith just into solar cycles and El Nino alone in forecasting severe winters ahead and extreme weather events around the world have to be taken with a grain of salt. The fact El Nino conditions have been prevalent for much of the United States this winter (not necessarily in other parts of the globe, yet) is probably is due to some interaction with the Solar-Cosmic Rays cycle.
I believe the warming oceans, brought on by Co2 emissions, volcanic eruptions, etc. has just as much of an effect on global weather patterns as solar cycles and El Nino/La Nina does. It is a very complicated, interwoven subject!!
However, it should be noted that there have only been 4 events since 1951-52 when both low solar activity and El Nino occurred, together with record snowy western winters (winters of 1951-52; 1994-95; 1963-64; 2009-2010). Snowbird, Utah, for example had between 520-688″ of snowfall during those winters. This winter (2018-19) will be the 5th year this scenario has happened. Hence, I believe there is some important conclusions that can indeed be made when both low solar activity and El Nino occur, simultaneously.
The information below is a combination of my comments, 35 years of experience forecasting the weather for various U.S. ski areas and excerpts from Tony Crocker’s informative ski site: bestsnow.net.
CORRELATION BETWEEN EL NINO EVENTS AND SKI WEATHER
El Nino/La Nina events are persistent weather patterns, but their effects upon ski area snowfall are less clear-cut. In my view, it is important to factor in both climate change and other teleconnection indices (not just El Nino/La Nina), in order to better construct more accurate weather forecasting methods for the ski industry.
According to Tony Crocker, “Correlations of various El Nino/La Nina values are not necessarily the best way to analyze El Nino/La Nina events and their associated snowfall potential for ski areas. Many meteorologists believe that only the stronger episodes have a material impact.
Shown below is Tony’s list of ski areas favored by El Nino, along with their monthly and season correlations to the MEI index and average snowfall during strong El Nino and La Nina months. Many of these El Nino events had very high (positive) AAM. It is in the cases when AAM is weaker and other teleconnections such as the MJO, Arctic Sea ice and other teleconnections play “at least” as important a role as El Nino/La Nina, that meteorologists must factor in these other climatic forcing mechanisms when making medium and longer term weather forecast predictions for the ski and many other industries.
According to Tony, for the best winter snows and ski conditions, El Nino strongly favors Southern California and Arizona, with milder effects extending to the southern Sierra, far southern Utah and New Mexico. In El Nino years, the only big destination resort that is favored consistently is Taos, and that in the mild category. Taos takes until nearly February to get fully covered in normal years, and skiers should be more wary during La Nina years. The data I acquired for Las Lenas in 2005 and Portillo in 2007 support the prevailing view that the high Andes are strongly favored by El Nino. As the 2010-11 La Nina strenghtened these areas received almost no snow after August 1, 2010. Advance bookings to these lower latitude South American ski areas (also the Valle Nevado group) should be avoided in La Nina years until snow is on the ground.
He constructed graphs to illustrate the variability of the snowfall correlations to El Nino/La Nina. The one shown below is for selected areas favorable to El Nino.
Referring to the chart below, the horizontal axis lists the ski seasons since 1966-67 in order of strong El Nino at left to strong La Nina at right. The vertical axis is percent deviation from normal snowfall. The blue line is the sum of MEI indicies from OCT/NOV to APR/MAY, scaled to fit the graph. The purple line shows the dramatic boost to Southern California snowfall from El Nino, with the 2 biggest snow years correponding to the 2 big El Nino of 1982-83 and 1997-98. 5 of the top 8 El Ninos produced at least 170% of normal snow. There are no guarantees even here, as the #3 and #5 seasons 2015-16 and 1986-87 were real stinkers at only 59% and 62% normal snowfall.
Moving to Taos, New Mexico (yellow line) the effect is less dramatic. The 2 big El Ninos were 116% and 118% of average, while Taos’ record 1972-73 season at 174% was in the 6th highest El Nino year. But only 2015-16 and 1991-92 of the top 7 EL Nino years was below average at Taos, and those were still 98% and 95% of average.
In the Sierra the picture is mixed. Everyone remembers the huge Sierra snow during the record El Nino of 1982-83. But the 4rd and 5th strongest El Ninos (1991-92 and 1986-87) were severe drought years at Tahoe, and 1986-87 was Mammoth’s 4th worst season ever at 5%. Nonetheless, 5 of the top 9 El Nino years (1982-83, 1992-93, 1994-95, 1997-98 and 2009-10) were at least 130% at Mammoth (orange line) and at Donner Summit (light blue line) and Lake Tahoe.
COMBINING THE AAM AND OTHER TELECONNECTIONS WITH EL NINO TO FORECAST SNOW MORE ACCURATELY FOR SKI AREAS
There are many other climatic variables that have a huge impact in snowfall around the world and the ski industry. I personally believe that global warming and climate change are having at least a “partial” adverse impact on ski resorts around the globe. For a recent interesting article in the NY Times regarding this, please click here.
Anyway, Atmospheric Angular Momentum (AAM), is just one in a series of climatic variables and teleconnections that can impact global weather and also snow totals for the ski industry. AAM is a measure of how fast the atmosphere is spinning relative to the Earth’s rotation. It is a complex variable that can offer insight to particular flow configurations within the atmosphere. Models have been showing a relative high state of AAM the last few weeks or so. During high AAM states, the atmosphere can often act like an El Nino pattern.
The higher AAM can actually help reduce the Trade Winds in the East Pacific. Hence, while no official El Nino has been announced yet this year, the atmosphere has been acting like a “ weak” El Nino State much of this winter. This could bold quite well for eastern skiing in March from Vermont to New York State, Maine and New Hampshire with snow and colder weather . The weak El Nino signal, combined with a weak +AAM has benefitted ski resorts, not only in California, but Oregon, Wyoming Utah and Colorado, as well. Many ski areas like Snowbird, Utah have had more than 100” of snow the last few weeks. This snow activity could shift to the eastern U.S. during March.
WHY THE +AAM AND ONLY WEAK EL NINO SIGNAL, EASED THE DEVELOPING DROUGHT TO N. BRAZIL SOYBEANS AND COFFEE
Let’s step away from ski weather for a moment and make an observation about the commodity markets. The positive (high) state of AAM is not in the strongest top 10% of all years, so rains have returned to key Brazil coffee and soybean areas of central and N. Brazil. In other words, a very weak El Nino signal. If there was consistently strong (not weak) +AAM from December-February, this would have jumped started the coffee and soybean markets with much more serious concerns to crops. Recently, rains have returned to key Brazil soybean and coffee regions offering a “bearish” weather spin to these markets.
My in house proprietary long range weather forecast program (CLIMATECH–below) focuses in on the positive AAM values this winter and how it predicted weeks in advance, the incessant snows out west in February and an easing of what could have been a potential serious N. Brazil drought for coffee and soybean crops.
The map above shows estimated snow (inches) through January 25th . However, given my experience forecasting weather for ski areas for 25 years, I can tell you that much of the Sierras, Cascades, Colorado and Utah ski areas will see at least 2-3 feet over the next 10 days or so—Jim Roemer
The huge blue trough you see out west will continue to break the western drought but bring more mud-slides to parts of California as well as feet of snow to the west through the end of January.
This season’s feeble ski season from Colorado to Utah and California. This is about to change
The report below is a week old, but interesting nevertheless: a lot of snow has fallen in the western ski areas over the last week with tons more coming. More information about the ski season and historical information on snowfall can be found from the great site www.bestsnow.net and Tony Crocker.
BESTSNOW.NET 2017-18 Ski Season Progress Report as of January 8, 2018:
October 2017 snowfall was strongest in the higher elevations of western Canada and the northern Rockies with some lesser amounts in Colorado. First half of November snowfall was high in the Pacific Northwest and inland northern regions, resulting in some early openings and deep snowpacks. There was also an atmospheric river storm mid-November in California. Thanksgiving week brought widespread rain to 9,000 feet to the northern regions, degrading the snowpack at lower elevations. Thanksgiving snowpacks were still over 4 feet at Mt. Baker, Whistler and Grand Targhee.
The farther south you go, the less November snow there was, and some opening dates were pushed back. The western US was under severe sustained high pressure for the first half of December. The week before Christmas brought substantial snow to the Northwest and spread inland to the Rockies as well. Northern Utah and Colorado got a couple of feet but still endured limited holiday skiing similar to 2011-12 and are unlikely to reach full operation before February.
The Southwest still has almost no natural snow on the ground and should be avoided indefinitely barring major dumps. Skiing in other regions acquired an adequate snowpack at higher elevations in November. Lower elevations had a lot of November rain, resulting in variable coverage and surfaces. But the week before Christmas snow brought most Northwest, western Canadian and northern Rockies area into midwinter form. These regions also got a foot of snow Christmas week.
The first week of January saw up to a foot of snow over most of the West, refreshing surfaces but not enough to open much more terrain. Most forecasters believe there will be substantial storms during the second half of January.
An early November storm only snowed more than a few inches north of Lake Tahoe and over 8,000 feet. The second week’s storm was much bigger though also snow mostly over 8,000 feet. Mt. Rose got 4 feet and Mammoth got 2+ feet at its Main Lodge snow plot but 5+ feet up top. Thanksgiving week had a bit of rain followed by warm weather resulting in spring conditions. A foot of snow in late November restored surfaces to the areas with an adequate base over 8,000 feet. With less than a foot of December snow, Mt. Rose and Mammoth continued to have the best skiing, but ungroomed snow was bumpy with more obstacles over the holidays.
Other Tahoe areas have marginal base depths around 2 feet on limited terrain, have been beaten up by holiday crowds and should be avoided until there is much more snow. Early January snow was a foot at Mammoth but mostly rain at Tahoe. A current similar storm is expected to be twice as big and should bring Mammoth close to full operation. See Current California Ski Conditions for more details on Southern California and Mammoth.
Pct. of Normal
Pct. of Area Open
The region had some October storms but the rain/snow line was above all but the alpine sectors of Whistler and Mt. Bachelor. First half of November snowfall was widespread and many areas opened by November 18. The Thanksgiving week rain reduced the Mt. Baker and Whistler base depths from 6 feet to 4 feet. Base depths elsewhere were reduced to the 2 foot range. Late November snow improved surfaces and restored about a foot of base lost by the rain.
Much of the Whistler alpine opened Dec. 9 after extensive avalanche control, resulting in twice as much open terrain as anywhere else in North America. The Northwest had a scattered foot of snow during the first half of December but in the second half of December it dumped 3 feet at Mt. Hood, 4 feet at Whistler and 5+ feet inWashington State areas. New Year’s base depths were 4-5 feet at most areas, 6 feet at Whistler and 8 feet at Mt. Baker. There was little snow in early January but about 2 feet is expected this week.
Pct. of Normal
Pct. of Area Open
Canadian Rockies and Interior B.C.:
Snowfall was abundant in this region from late October through mid-November. Thanksgiving week rain affected the Okanogan and Kootenay areas, though base depths declined only at Fernie, remaining near 3 feet at most other areas. With 2+ feet of snow in late November/early December, base depths reached the 3-4 foot range. Second half of December snowfall was a bit under 2 feet around Banff but 4+ feet in the Okanagan and Kootenay regions. Base depths are 4-5 feet and this remains the best overall ski region entering the new year. Silver Star and Sun Peaks were 2/3 open by mid-December and in full operation for the holidays. There was little snow in early January but about a foot is expected this week.
Pct. of Normal
Pct. of Area Open
U. S. Northern Rockies:
Grand Targhee had 115 inches snowfall by mid-November, and thus opened 82% on Nov. 17 and 100% by Thanksgiving. Interior Northwest areas got the rain and December 1 base depths were in the 2+ foot range. Most areas got a little under a foot of snow in early December before the high pressure set in. Second half of December snowfall of 5 feet brought excellent holiday skiing to Schweitzer, Whitefish and the interior Northwest. Southern Montana and the Tetons got 3-4 feet, bringing Big Sky to 90% open. Overall this region was close to full operation for the holidays on 3-5 foot bases, except for Sun Valley which only had 3 inches of December snow. There were a few inches of early January snow with a foot expected this week, more at the interior Northwest areas.
Pct. of Normal
Pct. of Area Open
Utah had minimal October snow and was on the edge of November storms. Some opening dates were delayed and any skiing is on limited snowmaking. An early December storm dropped up to 18 inches in the Cottonwood Canyons, a foot at Snowbasin and 6 inches in Park City, but only a little bit more terrain opened. After only a few inches here and there in mid-December, the Wasatch got 2+ feet just before Christmas, but holiday open terrain and season snowfall still fell just short of 2011-12 and were the lowest since 1980-81. Terrain remains limited after a few inches last week, but may improve with 1-2 feet possible this week. Utah probably needs 4+ feet more snow to get close to full operation.
Pct. of Normal
Pct. of Area Open
Park City (mid estimate)
Northern and Central Colorado:
A-Basin opened a run on snowmaking October 13 followed by Loveland on October 20. November snowfall was about half average and all skiing was on a manmade base of no more than 18 inches. A-Basin is 36% open. First half of December snowfall averaged about one foot. The Northwest storm track finally hit at Christmas with 2+ feet from Steamboat through the Continental Divide with less at Vail and Beaver Creek. However, as of New Year’s only Steamboat and Winter Park were more than half open, with most areas only slightly better off than in 2011-12. Vail had less open than any New Year’s since 1980-81. With a few inches last week and about a foot predicted this week it will probably take well until February to for most of these areas to approach full operation. Open terrain now is similar to mid-December of an average season.
Pct. of Normal
Pct. of Area Open
Southern and Western Colorado:
This region has been driest of all so far with no end in sight, so all skiing is on limited snowmaking. The Rocky Mountain Biological Lab at Gothic (between Crested Butte and Aspen) had 17 inches in October and 55 inches since, the total being the lowest in 44 years of records. Even Wolf Creek has had just 58 inches (28 of it during the first week of November) and reports 90% open but on a sketchy 19 inch base.
Taos is 14% open. Aspen/Snowmass has similar conditions as the northern and central areas above. Farther south, the first two months of the season were so dry (the Christmas storm was 1.5 feet at Aspen and Crested Butte but less than a foot farther south) that these areas should be avoided before mid-February at the earliest. Advanced terrain is unlikely to be open before then unless there are major dumps. Taos’ Kachina lift and much of Crested Butte’s North Face, needing substantial snowpacks on steep terrain, are in danger of not opening at all this season. Last week’s snow was a few inches and about a foot is predicted this week.
Pct. of Normal
Pct. of Area Open
Gothic Snow Lab
Killington was the first opening on November 8 as there was too much warm weather and rain in October. There was gradual terrain expansion on snowmaking since Thanksgiving but natural snow was mainly in northern Vermont. Second week of December snowfall averaged 3 feet in Northern Vermont and 2 feet elsewhere, setting up the region for a very good holiday season. The Northeast averaged 2 feet of snow during the second half of December, but there was bitter cold during most of the holiday period. In early January the cold has persisted with 1-2 feet of snow. Percents open: Okemo 98%, Stratton 92%, Sugarloaf 73%, Sunday River 77%, Hunter 81%, Tremblant 96%, Mt. Ste. Anne 93%.
Winter is only a day old and Jack Frost is already planning a trip to America. Temperatures from Montana to Pennsylvania will range 20 to 25 degrees F below normal for this time of year. Three snowstorms will track across the country over the next week. The first storm starts tonight for northern New England, sparing most of the big cities. Around 6″-12″ is expected in Burlington, VT. The second will begin on tomorrow, with “1-5” Washington to Nebraska. This storm will continue through the middle of the country on Christmas eve, ending in New England on Christmas day. New York City will be right on the rain/snow line. A white Christmas for many will be in stark contrast to last 3 years where temperatures averaged 5-10 degrees above normal. Check out the expected snow total by next Wednesday: (European 12z model, Source: stormvistamodels.com)
The third storm has the potential to a pack a wallop. Models have been occasionally giving some areas major accumulations. However, they have not been consistent on who gets the bullseye. This is not uncommon for storm forecasts still more than a week away. The latest Euro certainly got a few people excited today with 12″ for much of the East Coast (DC, Baltimore, & NYC).
Those traveling in these in the East Dec 30th- Jan 1st should to pay attention to updates on this storm potential from their local TV mets and the National Weather Service.
The negative Western Pacific Oscillation index (WPO) is depicted by a warm, strong block to the NW of Alaska well into November. The strong negative phase of the QBO (stratospheric winds, some 25-50 miles in the stratosphere) could result in this block remaining well into November. Its implications will be important for energy and natural gas traders, but only paid clients will get a heads up with respect to these markets. A week ago we began discussing a possible warm start to winter and natural gas prices have taken it on the chin as U.S. production is increasing, but will this continue? Subscriptonsbestweather@gmail.com
Early Snow for Ski Areas
I have been doing ski forecasting for Snowbird, Utah for over 15 years and used to forecast for more than 25 ski areas nationwide, particularly in Vermont and New Hampshire. The combination of a -WPO coupled with a developing La Nina suggest a very snowy November with feet of snow from the Cascades to the Sierras and Utah. The map below shows the relationship of moisture in November in years when we have this strong block (-WPO) as shown above—very snowy with feet of snow. Usually it is El Nino not La Nina that results in the best ski seasons out west, but there are exceptions. For more information please visit www.bestsnow.net