The snowfall this past season was the worst on record for the NW. Even worse than the dreaded 1976-77 season. The problem was not precipitation, which was near normal, but consistently high snow levels. On average, about 1000-2000ft above normal. The reason was the configuration and persistence of a high pressure system off the coast. Plus, the influence of a massive "blob" of warm water off the West Coast. Those warm ocean temperatures in the "blob" were actually caused by the unusual high pressure, initialy two years ago -- not visa versa.
The question is: why was the high so stubborn, not allowing the cooler air for us, to bring down the snow levels? The reason was not global warming or El Nino. A new study just out ( D Hartman - University of Washington, Geophysical Letters) suggests a plausible answer. Its well know the tropical Pacific ocean can affect our winter weather in Western North America. This past season a different area of warm ocean temperatures,not the near coast blob, but in the tropical Pacific. That warmth produced an unusual area of tropical thundershowers. That caused a modification in the typical airflow to the midlatitudes, which affected the jet stream. Results: Western US = inconsistent with snow/high snow levels, Eastern US = major cold and snow. I've talked to experts in tropical oceans and weather, it is unclear if the warm ocean temperatures will persist into next season. Seasonal weather doesn't truly ever repeat - but does have similar patterns. Also, next year there might be a stronger El Nino, which will mean dry and mild for the NW. But even a strong El Nino won't be as bad as this lat season lack of snowpack! We'll know more by early fall how the El Nino is developing.
There were a few good days this past season, but very little skiing below 5000ft elevation. Crystal tried their best. Even the snow magnet of Mt Baker had a difficult time. I had some great days at Whistler, where all the good skiing is always above 4500ft. Interior BC faired better than most of the NW. Whistler, Bachelor and Timberline will be open into May - but check hours and limited operations.
Larry Schick - meteorologist
OPEN SNOW - NW Territory