Shorter days, cooler nights, and changing colors means fall is here. And with the fall season, ski season isn’t far away. Some ski areas have even seen their first snow of the season. We’re looking forward to the 2023/24 winter ski season now more than ever.
As the 2022-2023 ski season proved, long-range forecasts aren’t exactly a precise indication of how much snow a region will, or will not, receive. However, as climate patterns materialize, they can provide some clues to what a season may hold. As fall gets started, some climate patterns are emerging. Earlier this month, the NOAA issued an El Niño advisory, anticipating El Niño to continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter, with a 95% chance through January to March 2024. So we sat down with meteorologist Chris Tomer to get a pulse on what we can expect this upcoming ski season.
2023/2024 Long-range winter forecast by Chris Tomer
There are numerous global factors that influence how much snow could fall across North America each winter season. Of all the factors, I like to analyze the water temperatures in the South Pacific near the Equator. Water temperatures in this geographic area tend to affect the wintertime jet stream position in the United States.
Keep in mind this is a forecast, and a long-range forecast at that. Last season we saw a rare triple-dip La Nina, in which parts of North America, particularly California and Utah, saw far more snow than was originally forecasted. A number of Utah and California ski areas broke their all-time season records. We then said so long to La Nina and hello to El Niño.
After three consecutive winter seasons with La Niña influence, the South Pacific made a fast transition to El Niño. Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are now running warmer than normal, and they’re expected to continue warming. A strong El Niño is likely by December 2023, and it’ll potentially be one of the strongest El Niño patterns on record. A strong El Niño is likely to continue with a screaming subtropical jet across the southern tier by January, February, March, April, and May 2024.
During La Nina years the polar jet stream dominates. During El Nino years, on the other hand, the subtropical jet stream dominates. By January through April, that subtropical jet stream looks especially enhanced. It will mirror the enhanced subtropical jet stream from May-July 2023 when heavy precipitation and a parade of storm systems hit the Southern Tier. Additionally, atmospheric river (AR) setups are likely along with large East Coast storm systems.
I believe we’ll see a 30% El Nino Modoki contribution. El Nino Modoki is different from the traditional El Nino in that the warming is largely in the central equatorial Pacific region rather than the eastern equatorial Pacific region. This puts several major ski resorts on the bubble.
What will the snow be like for winter 2023/2024?
During the early parts of the season, through the rest of 2023, data suggests a normal to drier than normal period for most of the West. Out East, it looks wetter than normal. By January, this is when the bulk of the El Nino driven snowfall occurs across parts of the West with a strong subtropical jet. The pattern suggests a higher likelihood of Atmospheric River (AR) events. In the Northeast, normal to above normal snowfall appears possible. The pattern suggests that Nor Easter storm systems are more likely.
This pattern particularly favors the Northeast. New England ski areas could see a particularly great winter, which couldn’t be any more timely after last season’s winter on the east coast. Many Colorado ski areas, including Summit County resorts, Loveland, Telluride, and Arapahoe Basin, stand to be among the biggest winners. As do New Mexico ski areas and California ski areas in the Sierras.