Forecasters have announced El Nino is over and we are headed towards a winter where conditions will be “neutral”. So what does ENSO-neutral mean? According to the NOAA Climate Prediction Center, “ENSO-neutral refers to those periods when neither El Nino nor La Nina is present. These periods often coincide with the transition between El Nino and La Nina events. During ENSO-neutral periods the ocean temperatures, tropical rainfall patterns, and atmospheric winds over the equatorial Pacific Ocean are near the long-term average.”
Essentially, we should have a season where there is as much of a chance of having more snow as less snow than average. But a 39-year history comparing ENSO-neutral conditions to seasonal snowfall, shows it is likely we will have an above average snow year at Mt. Hood Meadows.
Meadows average snowfall is 430 inches during the season. In the last 39 years there have been eleven ENSO-neutral seasons, which averaged a little over 444 inches of seasonal snowfall. Six of the seasons exceeded average while five fell below average. Four of the seasons had snowfall of 550 inches or more!
Season Total Snow
In the four seasons that ENSO-neutral conditions followed an El Nino season (like the one we just came out of), Meadows averaged 446 inches - with two seasons falling below average (2003-04 was just 4” less than average).
ENSO-Neutral Seasons Following El Nino
So what does that mean for this season? El Nino and La Nina conditions tend to generate more extreme weather, and can be harder to predict specific snow events. While no long-range forecast can be definitive, ENSO-neutral seasons tend to be more consistent in delivering the goods.
Asit Rathod floats through early December 2016 powder during the last ENSO-Neutral season at Mt. Hood Meadows - Randy Boverman Photo
The last ENSO-neutral season was 2016-17, when Meadows received 555 inches of seasonal snowfall; reached 100 inches in the base area on February 6 and amassed it’s deepest base of 148 inches on March 8. It was a very good season!
NOAA Climate Prediction Center
And here is a look at snowfall amounts and the deepest our base reached (at the bottom of Mt. Hood Express) in each season going back to 2004/2005. Notice the three neutral years during that time frame saw deep snowpacks reaching 124 inches (2012-13), 136 inches (2013-14) and 148 inches (2016-17).