What El Niño Has in Store for Winter 2015/2016

29th July 2015 | Meteorologist Chris Tomer

News Regions: California, Colorado, Lake Tahoe Summer, New England, Utah, Wyoming

Resorts in this article: Brian Head Resort, Kirkwood, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, Wolf Creek Ski Area

Tomer, El Niño - ©Meteorologist Chris Tomer

Meteorologist Chris Tomer's North American El Niño predictions for the 2015/2016 ski season.

Copyright: Meteorologist Chris Tomer

A Zeitgeist of sorts, it never fails: Right around this time of year, every year, tales of El Niño-enduced record-setting snowfall and endless powder days for the ski season to come start to swirl, no matter how true those very same tales panned out to be for the season before it. To set the record straight, we tapped our OnTheSnow Mountain Meteorologist, Chris Tomer for his region-by-region predictions on what skiers and snowboarders can expect come winter.

Big Picture

El Niño/La Niña load the dice in certain ways, often encouraging the jet stream (storm track) to follow particular patterns. This winter, all indications support the influence of a moderate to strong El Niño, and we generally know what kinds of regional precipitation and temperature effects that might bring.

For example, the biggest change this winter is for better odds of a wet, stormy winter in southern California and the desert Southwest. But, that doesn't automatically mean all of California will get pulled out of the drought. The odds also favor a wetter than normal winter along the Gulf Coast and Florida. While there really isn't a strong signal for the Northeast, the Ohio Valley has better odds for a dry, mild winter.

The wildcard is the Pacific Northwest where the influence of El Niño may get tempered by a pool of warmer than normal water off the coast. It's unusual. That warm pool of water nicknamed by local forecasters as "the blob" has kept the area abnormally warm and dry.  


Odds are stacked in favor of a wetter, stormier and snowier winter for the southern half of California. The Sierra in general should do much better than the last couple winters, with snowfall amounts normal to above normal. But again, that doesn't mean northern California is in the same boat. My gut feeling is that most of the Tahoe resorts should get close to normal snowfall, which is still a huge improvement. Kirkwood and Mammoth will do quite well. 

Meteorologist Chris Tomer's west-coast El Niño predictions for the 2015/2016 ski season. - ©Meteorologist Chris Tomer

Meteorologist Chris Tomer's west-coast El Niño predictions for the 2015/2016 ski season.

Copyright: Meteorologist Chris Tomer

Colorado, Utah, Wyoming

Utah appears to be in line for normal to slightly above normal winter snowfall. In particular, southern Utah has the best odds with Brian Head in good position. 

Colorado is an interesting case study. My feeling is that the southern mountains stand the best chance for the heaviest winter snowfall.  But, even there I don't think we're talking blockbuster amounts—just slightly better than normal. This is one of those winters where Wolf Creek reigns supreme. The central mountains should get close to normal snowfall while the northern mountains may underperform with slightly less than normal amounts. 

Wyoming appears stuck in the middle. I think we'll see slightly below normal snowfall overall, but I wouldn't change any plans to ski there. 


Winter snow in this case really depends on how strong this El Niño gets—the stronger, the better chances for heavier than normal snowfall in New England. Right now I think we'll see normal winter snow amounts but the numbers could edge up. 


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