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The Data Shows Strong El Ninos Produce Near Average Snow Seasons at Mt. Hood Meadows

Categories: Guest Connection Inside Meadows Weather Blog Media Center

Nino Index compared to seasonal snowfall at Mt. Hood Meadows
  • 35 years of data shows strong El Ninos produce 96% of average snow season accumulation
  • The 82/83 season a strong El Nino dumped 623” at Meadows!

We’ve all seen the media accounts forecasting a powerful El Nino growing for the upcoming season and what it could mean for the west coast and more importantly Pacific Northwest. There is a lot of speculation and potential misinformation circulating out there, so we thought we’d review the past 35 years of weather to compare the prevailing weather system with actual snowfall at Mt. Hood Meadows.

About the Chart:
We measure our snowfall at the bottom of the Mt. Hood Express at around the 5400 foot elevation. We tally accumulation from the first snowfall in October or November that gets us open, through the last snowfall recorded when we close. Annual snowfall is greater, as any pre-season, late spring or even the occasional summer snow storm accumulation is not counted (as other ski areas on Mt. Hood and other locations tally and report). 
Meadows average seasonal snowfall over the past 35 years is 429 inches. The graph uses the 429 average as the baseline - bars above the baseline are seasons above the average, and bars below are seasons below the average. We’ve aligned our snowfall in the chart with the Oceanic Nino Index for each season. The Red lines (above the baseline) are El Nino seasons, the blue lines (below the baseline) are La Nina seasons. 

Here’s what we’re finding:

  • Strong El Nino’s as this winter is forecast, actually bring near average, or even way above average snow. Here are the snowfall amounts for the four “strong El Ninos” this winter is being compared to:
⁃ 82-83 623”
⁃ 91-92 231”
⁃ 94-95 414.5”
⁃ 97-98 385”
  • Weak El Ninos are more likely to produce lower snowfall years than strong El Ninos. This past season and the 04/05 season produced two of our lowest snow seasons and both were weak El Ninos.
  • There is more correlation between La Nina winters bringing above average snow, then El Nino’s bringing below average snow seasons. 

What does this mean for Meadows?

The 35 year data doesn’t support an argument that if we have a strong El Nino, Meadows will have a below average snow year. In fact, the second largest snow year in the past 35 seasons was 82/83 - a strong El Nino year that dumped 623” at Meadows. The past four strong El Nino's seasons average 96% of our average seasonal snowfall.

What is Meadows doing about it?
Beyond talking about the weather (which everyone loves to do), we are working hard to make sure no matter how much natural snow we receive, we will have the best on snow experience possible. This includes:

  • Summer trail maintenance including stump removal, brush cutting and grass mowing. This sustainable practice allows us to open runs with a shallower snowpack, increasing the amount of terrain we can open in the early season.
  • Expanding our snow harvesting capabilities with the purchase of a dump bucket for one of our snow cats, and the rental of two Morooka snow haulers. We are prepping non-slope areas for storing early season off-slope snow to be hauled to the base area lifts and other locations. 
  • This is in addition to the well-documented efforts our mountain crews made last season, taking our second worst snow year and turning it into a 118-day season.
    See Snow Harvesting Video 

We can’t control the weather, but we have great reason to be optimistic moving into this season. 

  • First - look at the track record of snowfall at Mt. Hood Meadows over the past 35 seasons. Other areas of the country, even in their best seasons, rarely average more snow that what we receive, even in our worst seasons. 
  • Second - we have proven our commitment and ability to make the most of the natural snow we have and are totally up to the challenge when we have an off snow year.
  • Third - we are offering a 100 day guarantee to our unlimited passholders. We will operate at least 100 days with at least one high speed quad operating, or we will offer a percentage discount to renewing passholders equal to the number of days under 100 that we don’t operate. If it’s a catastrophic season and we never operate a high speed quad, passholders get their next season’s pass free.
    100 Day Guarantee Details

Keep in mind, our seasonal snowfall is measured and reported at the 5400 foot level. Higher up on the mountain on terrain serviced by Shooting Star, Vista and Cascade Express lifts, we receive much more accumulation and a substantially deeper snowpack. This natural snow advantage and our proven commitment to snow farming provides greater certainty of reliable quality skiing and riding than resorts with base area elevations below 4,500’, particularly considering the potential volatility of a strong El Nino forecast.

We renew our commitment to you our loyal guest to present consistently reliable conditions, service levels and a superior on-snow experience our unique terrain, higher elevation and talented crews can provide. A strong El Nino? Bring it on!