What Does A 'Weak El Niño' Outlook Mean In Terms Of Snow?

What Does A 'Weak El Niño' Outlook Mean In Terms Of Snow?


What Does A 'Weak El Niño' Outlook Mean In Terms Of Snow?


Image: NOAA | Cover: USFS

NOAA is saying there’s a 70% chance of El Niño forming this autumn and if that happens– it’ll likely be weak one. But what does that mean for skiers and riders across the USA?

By definition, a weak El Niño is when sea surface temperatures in the central Pacific only rise slightly higher than normal. During a ‘strong’ El Niño winter, those same temps rise significantly above the norm. The last strong El Niño came during the 2016 season, which saw decent snowfall across the western United States with California and the PNW scoring big.

Related: El Niño Forecast / Outlook For Winter 2018 – 2019

The last weak El Niño came during the 14/15 winter, which was a bust at most west coast ski areas. The Rockies on the other hand did relatively well with Colorado, Wyoming, and Canada getting their fair share of pow.

Utah on the other hand did horribly with one of their all-time worst seasons on record.

So what about this season’s ‘Weak El Nino’?

*Chances are… We don’t know. Climate forecasts are long-range and as such– extremely difficult. But that doesn’t mean we can’t make an educated guess.

A weak El Niño indicates that the jet stream will not be held completely hostage by an increasingly positive ENSO event. Instead the jet stream has decent potential to stray from its predominantly southern orientation this season, thus bringing snow to the northern Rockies and Colorado in addition to the already favored Southwest.

Unlike the 14/15 season, which only saw El Niño in the second half of winter, this year seems to be setting up a little bit more uniform. Although it’s still weak, we should start seeing a real El Niño trend this fall and continuing through winter.


The Southwest should fare well with slightly higher than normal precipitation across the Sierra, San Juans, and Sangre de Cristo mountain ranges. After two bad seasons in a row, look for Taos to hit it big with a few mid-winter storms for the record books.

Unofficial Picks: Taos, Mammoth, Squaw, Mt Rose

Finger’s crossed | Photo: USFS

Pacific Northwest:

Last time a weak El Niño rolled through, the PNW had a very up-and-down season. Out of all the resorts, Mt Baker (*big surprise) did the best and held down most of the colder temps. For that reason Baker is our only pick when it comes to the PNW this season.

Unofficial Picks: Mt Baker


Utah did historically bad during the last weak El Niño event and we’re thinking it’s going to be yet another down season for Utah powder hounds. However, look for southern resorts like Eagle Point and Brian Head to possibly have their best skiing in the last decade.

Unofficial Picks: Brian Head, Eagle Point, Sundance

Northern Rockies:

The Rockies did decent last time there was a weak El Nino in effect and expect Grand Targhee, Jackson Hole, and Sun Valley to have very average winters.

Unofficial Picks: Grand Targee, Sun Valley, Jackson Hole

Gold Hill Chutes – Telluride, CO | Photo: SNOWBOARDGUIDES.COM


The southern half of Colorado and everything west of the Continental Divide should see snow early this season. The one worry we have is warmer than normal forecasted temps, so head to the higher resorts for more consistent snow. Last time a weak El Nino event happened (14/15), Colorado had one of its wettest springs on record. Arapahoe Basin typically closes in June!

Unofficial Picks: Arapahoe Basin, Monarch,  Silverton, Crested Butte, Wolf Creek, Telluride


Weak El Nino’s typically don’t mean much for the northeast’s regular weather pattern. For now we’ll avoid predicting a significant change during such a weak ENSO event. One thing we can predict is that Jay Peak always has a damn good chance of seeing the most snow in the northeast.

Unofficial Picks: Jay Peak

More Unofficial Networks