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La Nina good news for skiers

 | October 25, 2010

What may be bad news for some parts of the world is great news for us—La Niña is here for the winter!

La Niña is a weather system, the opposite of El Niño, where ocean temperatures in eastern Pacific Ocean, near the equator, drop by a few degrees. This may seem unimportant but currents and ocean temperatures affect air temperatures. La Niña and El Niño can dictate to ski bums around the world whether it’s going to be a good ski season or one short on snow.

This winter we’re going to be in a system of La Niña which calls for colder ocean temperatures and therefore colder air temperatures. La Niña doesn’t affect the whole world, or even a country, the same way. As we’ve already seen with Hurricane Igor hitting Newfoundland, the east coast of Canada is expected to be hit with harsher tropical storms. In the Interior of B.C. we’ve got it much better, as long as you like snow.

According to Henry Lau, media relations advisor for Environment Canada, historically moderate to strong La Niñas have brought colder-than-normal winter temperatures in western Canada with abundant snowfall from the Interior of British Columbia to the Great Lakes region.
To understand how La Niña decides where to drop a white winter, it’s good to look at a map. As aforementioned, La Niña’s effect isn’t the same everywhere and there’s a reason for this.

Jack Burnett, the Canadian specialist spokesperson for the Old Farmer’s Almanac Canadian Edition explains that usually there’s a weather system that connects across southern Canada and northern USA, shaped like a sine wave going up and down across the regions.

“(During La Niña) the cold air moves up along the coast of Central America and the southwestern United States and it pans the sine wave and flattens out this jet stream,” he explains further. “The storms we have every winter, instead of going up and down in a big sine wave, they go in a flatter track across northern USA and southern Canada.”

This is great news, as the jet stream will flow through parts of the Okanagan and the connecting storms will hit the Interior, including Sun Peaks. Historical weather data from Environment Canada shows that in early 2006, during a previous La Niña period, Sun Peaks enjoyed decent snowfalls nearly every day, and this winter could be similar.

Burnett points out that no two La Niñas are ever the same. This winter it’s predicted that weather will be drier, but also snowier and colder. December and February are predicted to be the coldest months while November and March are predicted to be snowier than usual—in snow geek talk this means a good base to start the season and excellent spring conditions—but Burnett also warns it could be a bad year for avalanches.

“It’ll be drier but the precipitation that does fall means heavy snow,” he says. “There are more chances of avalanches because of the stormy season, temperature fluctuations and unsettled weather.”

He also warns there may be flooding come late winter and early spring.

Regardless, snow and lots of it is good news for skiers and snowboarders this season. If you’ve been eyeing up that down ski suit, this might be the year to get it to keep warm and you’ll want to start hitting the gym to get those legs and core in shape because the forecast shows powder!

For more information visit www.almanac.com or www.ec.gc.ca.

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