Dec 1, 2010 | Marmot, Winter 2010

I (Heart) La Nina!

La Nina translates to “White Gold” for Mount Washington!

Climatologists are predicting a La Nina year on the West Coast, and for Mount Washington that could mean a big snow year.

The last time La Nina truly showed her face, in 1998-99, the Resort had a record snow year: 18.5 metres, one of the deepest snow packs in the world. “Half the chalets were covered in the Village and everybody was digging out,” said Brent Curtain, Resort Director of Public Relations and Promotions.

Even this past October, when the Resort saw 20-30 centimetres of snow in a weekend, the signs were there. “Things are a little cooler, a little wetter than normal, and it seems to be holding true,” Curtain said at the time.

La Nina usually means colder water in the Pacific, and a colder, wetter, or snowier winter. That’s as opposed to an El Nino year, which is typically milder, softer and with less snow, said David Phillips, Senior Climatologist with Environment Canada.

The typical pattern for La Nina began showing up in June, Phillips said. Winds begin blowing from the north, and the temperature in the Pacific Ocean drops slightly. La Nina affects droughts and flooding in other parts of the world, and winter in Canada.

Phillips predicts December, January and February will be colder than normal for Vancouver Island, and wetter than normal. That could translate into a lot of snow in higher elevations, he said.  “Generally, a La Nina year has spelled white gold for ski resorts. It puts people in the right frame of mind.”
There have been 18 true La Nina events over the past 60 years, he said. Of those 18 events, six had less snowfall than usual, and eight had ­more. Three were colder than normal and five were warmer. Meaning there are no guarantees, Phillips said.
“We think this winter may be tougher than last winter. This will be the winter we should have had for the Winter Olympics.”

George Trousdell, Director of Maintenance and Operations, and the man in charge of snow at Mount Washington, said the impending arrival of La Nina will not change his approach to snow clearing.

“We never know what we’re going to get,” he said. “We have to be aware of what is predicted and have all our equipment in order. We have to know what to do with the snow when it comes.“

Most of the snow clearing and grooming machines are already double shifted. “On days when we have to throw everything at it, we do. Otherwise, we stay calm and we work to a plan.“

In 1998-99, there was so much snow that the Resort trucked snow off the mountain because they ran out of places to pile it.

While Phillips and other climatologists can predict what might happen during a La Nina season, or an El Nino season, they’re not foolproof. Last year—an El Nino year—the Lower Mainland mountains, like Cypress, couldn’t make snow fast enough to keep up with the 2010 Winter Olympics.
At Mount Washington, the Resort recorded its third-highest snowfall in more than 30 years.

Last year a snow fence was built to help “farm” snow; corral it in places where it blows, so it could be collected and moved to where it was most needed. Because Mount Washington doesn’t make snow, this is the best way to make most effective use of snow. Last winter, the heavy snowfall buried the snow fence.

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