Is El Niño or La Niña better for lots of snowfall?

By meteomorris on 10 November 2015 · 0

As you already know, we're going to experience the strongest El Niño since we started measuring (that started in the middle of the last century, but it's better than nothing). If we have to believe the mainstream media then can we attribute pretty much everything to El Niño and we can expect some interesting natural phenomena this winter. That might be true, but it also feeds the speculation. But what is fact and what is fiction? And what's the impact of El Niño and La Niña on our winters?


Because of all the madness in the media, I once again dived into the books and analyzed some data to give you some guidance. This article is not about short-term predictions, but the consequences for the weather for an extended period (like three months or so). We are not talking about weather forecasts that give you six day outlook. Due to the chaotic nature of the atmosphere it's impossible to forecast a certain amount of snow for, let's say, January 3rd 2016. The further the forecast is in the future, the higher the unreliability.

But beyond all the chaos and unreliability, it may indeed be possible to make global climatological statements. La Niña and El Niño are events that occur regularly and where we have observed certain patterns, like less or more precipitation or lower or higher temperarures. And after collecting data for more than 60 years it showed that certain regions have to deal with temporary weather changed due to El Niño or La Niña. In some regions there will be more precipitation during winter, but, then again, you could be the lucky guy who can ski the storm of the season in a region that will get less precipitation during winter. So, it's no guarantee, it's a long term observation.

The climatic outlook is particularly useful for professionals who need to assess global risks. Think of cacoa buyers who want to know whether a harvest will fail. But also if you're planning the trip of a lifetime to the other side of the world, it is useful to know what your chances on an epic winter are.

The why of El Niño and La Niña

The movie above explains it perfectly. In short, the sea off the coast of Peru is warmer (El Niño) and at other times colder (La Niña) than normal. As a result, high and low pressure areas will temporarily be different than normal, so the weather has a different character than usual. Simple right?

El Niño and La Niña events last an average of nine to twelve months. Occasionally we see an El Niño two or more years in succession. The intensity and frequency of El Niño and La Niña vary from event to event. But on average we see an El Niño or La Niña event every two to seven years, with El Niños occurring more frequently than La Niñas. This year we have to deal with a very powerful El Niño. Below a picture of scientifically proven effects.

El Niño

An El Niño is known as a warm period. NOAA (US agency) and UK Weather Office (UKMO) are doing research on this phenomenon for a while. These are the consequences which they have identified:


UKMO temperature
UKMO temperature

UKMO precipitation
UKMO precipitation

This has the following consequences for the places where we ride powder:

  • Japan: main island higher temperatures than normal, no proven effects for Hokkaido
  • Canada and Cascades: higher temperatures than normal
  • USA: partly more precipitation and colder than normal (especially southern areas, such as California, southern Utah, southern Colorado and Arizona profit)
  • Pyrenees: according to the UKMO more precipitation and higher temperatures at the start of the season
  • Scandinavia: according to the UKMO colder (but only with weak El Niños)
  • Alps: no proven effects, but there's a small correlation between more precipitation and lower temperatures during spring, particularly for the northwestern Alps.

In this case higher temperatures mean that the snow line will be higher.The Americans see little or no connection between El Niño and the weather in Europe, while the British do observe some connections, butI couldn't find any studies. I did find a research of the KNMI (the Dutch meteorological institute) which sees a connection between El Niño and a Spring with lower temperatures and more precipitation. Also note the conclusions concerning Scandinavia. The UKMO says the following about it: on the map El Niño is marked as a cold impact, but very strong El Niño events (e.g. 1997/98, 1982/83) have an opposite warm impact.

Conclusion: Hokkaido is always good in January, in Canada you might ride powder at an altitude higher than normal, while El Niño end the drought in California and this could be the winter to plan your roadtrip through southern Utah/Colorado and Arizona .

La Niña

A La Niña is known as the cold period. The NOAA (US agency) and UK Weather Office (UKMO) are doing some research on La Niña for quite a while. You can check out their findings below:


UKMO temperature
UKMO temperature

UKMO precipitation
UKMO precipitation

This has the following consequences for the places where we ride powder:

  • Cascades: more precipitation than normal
  • Canada, Cascades and the northern Rockies: colder than normal
  • Southern parts of the USA: higher temperatures than normaal
  • Pyrenees: according to the UKMO less precipitation at the start of the season

Conclusion: This is the time for your road trip towards legendary Mt. Baker and Canada. Pick a 'yellow' season and chances are that you have the winter of a lifetime. And that there is a new La Niña coming up is certain. Maybe next winter already.

I hope this article has helped you to get a picture of the proven effects of El Niño and La Niña. For Europe, the effects are limited and there's just some correlation with the weather during Spring. The Alps have good and bad winters. It's hard to tell if this will be a good one. What I do know is that you should be flexible, so if I say that it is ON you can GO.

Read more about El Niño or La Niña?


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