By Alan Smith, Meteorologist Posted 3 months ago September 1, 2023
2023-2024 Whistler Blackcomb Winter Forecast Preview
The 2022-2023 winter was below average in terms of snowfall for Whistler Blackcomb, but the season did end on a strong note with heavier snowfall in April.
As we look ahead to the 2023-2024 winter season, it's important to remember that any winter outlook will contain an inherent degree of uncertainty. However, there are a few clues that we can keep an eye on.
Following three straight winters of La Niña, we are now heading into an El Niño this season.
In fact, current sea surface temperatures as of late August are showing a strengthening El Niño event.
El Niño, Explained
The term El Niño refers to the large-scale ocean-atmosphere climate phenomenon linked to periodic warming in sea-surface temperatures across the central and east-central equatorial Pacific.
El Niño represents the warm phase of the ENSO cycle and means that the ocean water temperatures are warmer than average.
Winter temperatures tend to be warmer than average across Western and Central Canada during El Niño cycles, but precipitation and snowfall signals vary by region.
Confidence is increasing that we could see a strong El Niño this season, which would officially occur if sea surface temperatures in the Niño-3.4 region of the equatorial Pacific Ocean are at least 1.5ºC warmer than average for three consecutive, overlapping 3-month periods.
OpenSnow forecasters have identified seven significant El Niño episodes that have occurred since 1980. Let's take a look at these significant El Niño seasons to see if we can identify any snowfall trends at Whistler Blackcomb.
Historical El Niño Seasons @ Whistler Blackcomb
After looking back at the seven most recent significant El Niño years and comparing them against the 30-year median season total snowfall through March 31 of 914 centimeters (360 inches) at the Roundhouse Lodge on Whistler Mountain, I've found that the median snowfall during those El Niño years is 921 centimeters (363 inches) through March 31 or 101% compared to the 30-year normal.
Total Snowfall on March 31 During Significant El Niño Years
- 1991-2020: 914 cm (30-year normal)
- 1982-1983: 946 cm
- 1986-1987: 882 cm
- 1991-1992: 907 cm
- 1997-1998: 876 cm
- 2002-2003: 921 cm
- 2009-2010: 1165 cm
- 2015-2016: 1018 cm
Four out of the seven significant El Niño years produced above-normal snowfall at Whistler through March 31.
Monthly Snowfall During Significant El Niño Winters
For timing, there's an interesting signal when looking at monthly snowfall during the seven most recent significant El Niño episodes and comparing them against the 30-year medians for each month.
*Note: Measurements at this station typically do not begin until mid-November.
- November: 58 cm (94%)
- December: 190 cm (84%)
- January: 276 cm (138%)
- February: 172 cm (127%)
- March: 185 cm (96%)
- April: 51 cm (81%)
Snowfall tends to be above-average during the middle of the season (Jan-Feb) and below average early (Nov-Dec) and late (Mar-Apr) in the season.
During a typical season, December is Whistler's snowiest month, but during significant El Niño seasons, January has the highest snowfall average. Also, January snowfall was above average in five of the seven significant El Niño winters we examined.
Temperatures During Significant El Niño Winters
While snowfall is what we pay attention to the most during ski season, temperatures are also a factor in terms of snow quality, snow levels, precipitation type, and avalanche danger.
For temperatures, I examined the Whistler Village weather station and compared winter seasonal and individual monthly temperatures during the seven most recent significant El Niño winters to the 30-year averages.
For the four-month winter period from December to March, I found that temperatures are 1.2ºC (2.2ºF) warmer than average during significant El Niño winters.
In fact, December-March temperatures were warmer than the 30-year average during all seven significant El Niño events.
Also, the signal for above-average temperatures is consistent over the entire season from November through April. The most pronounced warm signals are in January, February, and March.
Average monthly temperatures during significant El Niño winters are shown below, with the departure from the 30-year average shown in parentheses.
- November: 1.2ºC (+0.3º)
- December: -2.1ºC (+0.7º)
- January: -1.0ºC (+1.1º)
- February: 1.3ºC (+1.8º)
- March: 3.6ºC (+1.2º)
- April: 6.9ºC (+0.8º)
This warm signal indicates that average snow levels (the elevation of the rain/snow line) during storms may be higher during significant El Niño winters compared to non-El Niño winters, and that snow quality may be on the wetter/denser side compared to normal with the potential for more rain events on lower portions of the mountain. But keep in mind that every storm is different.
Overall, history tells us that Whistler Blackcomb tends to be right around normal for snowfall during significant El Niño winters, with the potential for a stronger mid-season.
Also, temperatures are very likely to be warmer than normal during a significant El Niño winter, which may indicate that average snow levels during storms are higher compared to a non-El Niño winter.
Having said all of this, for skiers and snowboarders, keep in mind that when it comes to finding the best conditions, it’s all about timing. To have the best chance of enjoying the deepest powder, our recommendation is to book a trip 7-10 days in advance.
Sometimes, longer-range forecasts can identify possible storms 1-2 weeks (or longer) in advance, but often, forecast confidence in the details of each storm only begins to increase when the system is about one week away or closer.
Video: OpenSnow Forecaster Luke Stone getting deep at Whistler Blackcomb (April 5, 2022)
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Alan Smith, Meteorologist