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The Inertia

It is no secret that the drought has devastated California for the last four years. Every weather-dependent industry in the state has been affected in one way or another, including agriculture, utilities, government, and of course ski resorts. One of the harshest victims of this being the Sierra Nevada Snowpack, which has seen only 3% of its average total accumulation this past year; the lowest level in 500 years.

This winter, California is projected to see one of the largest El Niños in the last 65 years, but what does that mean for all of us skiers and snowboarders in California? The short answer is, it depends. There are a lot of factors that go into play that can have a range of lasting effects on snow culture and California as a whole.

Where Will El Niño Hit?

The biggest question on everyone’s mind is: where is it going to hit? Before the projections came out there were two likely scenarios:


1. It would land in Northern and Central California, replenish the Sierra Nevada Snowpack, and store water for our future use.

2. Hit Southern California, devastate Los Angeles and surrounding areas with major mudslides, heavy rain, and abysmal water storage due to run-off.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has projected a mixture of both scenarios, the Sierra Nevada Snowpack and the Northern and Central California mountain ranges will most likely see higher snowfall compared to the last few seasons and Southern California should see some heavy showers and mudslides.

Total Snowfall by Year:

Northstar at Tahoe (Avg. 350”)
2015: 82” (as of 11/16/15)
2014: 202”
2013: 108”

Mammoth Mountain (Avg. 206”)
2015: 131” (as of 11/16/15)
2014: 230”
2013: 109”

Big Bear Lake (Avg. 62”)
2015: 25” (As of 11/16/15)
2014: 53”

Will it end the drought in California?

Sadly, no. It is projected to ease the circumstances, but California would need nearly twice its annual rainfall to completely alleviate the drought and that is not a likely scenario.

When Will it Hit?

An El Niño typically lands full force between January and March, but we are already seeing major accumulation in places like Mammoth Mountain with 31” of total snowfall in the last two weeks alone.

We know El Niño is coming, we can’t deny that. Some see it as something to fear, others see an opportunity to score some serious surfing and skiing in California. If the past few weeks are any indicator, the Northern and Central ranges should see above average years in snow accumulation and hopefully bring some much needed restoration to the Sierra Nevada Snowpack and California as well.

What makes El Niño special from other weather phenomena is that we have plenty of time to plan, and the difference between crisis and opportunity is preparation. So to all those skiers and snowboarders out there: buy a generator, a shovel, and sharpen those edges because it’s going to be a White Christmas.

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