Senior Editor

The Inertia

It’s been a decent start to the El Nino winter in the Northern Hemisphere, especially from a surf perspective. Hawaii has certainly kicked out some highlights at places like Jaws (Black Friday swell anyone?) and Pipeline – with a big thanks to Mother Nature for stellar conditions during an epic Pipe Masters.

The winter from a snow perspective hasn’t been quite as robust for Northern California or the Pacific Northwest (which is often the case during El Nino winters). Colorado has seen some good conditions, for certain. Utah just got another bump. Things might be changing, though. Forecasters are now thinking that the end of El Nino might be in sight. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, models are pointing to the fact that, “more likely than not,” El Nino conditions back off by June and the Pacific Ocean will return to more “neutral conditions.” Which means neither a La Niña or El Nino pattern.

That doesn’t mean 2023’s El Nino cycle isn’t going to pack a punch. Climate researchers say this could still be one of the strongest El Nino cycles in the past 75 years, and there’s still a greater than 50 percent chance it could be one of the strongest ever.

As far as what that means for surf and snow? Let’s dig in to a couple of forecasters’ thoughts. In the near term, Powderchasers is calling for a wet storm to impact the Sierra and Cascades this week. Bigger snow totals will have to be at higher elevations.  “Total snowfall in the West through next Saturday, December 23: the American model is pretty bullish, especially for the southern Lake Tahoe area extending into Mammoth midweek (above 8,500 feet),” wrote Powderchasers. “Some summits are showing totals over 15 inches with this model (snow ratio is 8:1). This storm drags south along the Calif. coast before weakening and spreading inland late this week toward Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico (light or moderate leftovers).

A colder storm is supposed to show its face over the Holiday weekend in the PNW and Rockies. Snow is predicted to be quality but not “overly” deep. The good news according to PC, is that we’re entering more of a “stormier pattern.”

Those predictions certainly line up with Stormsurf. “We’re hanging on for California, Sunday, just poised to come rushing on shore, a flat jet stream with piles of energy running from Japan almost all the way across the Pacific,” says Mark Sponsler, above. “A week from now the trough is forecast in the northern part of the Gulf of Alaska. This is a classic El Nino-fueled active phase of an MJO-enhanced strong, jet stream ready to come roaring in to California – the question is will it make it and when? El Nino hype for the moment looks justified because the jet stream is forecast ….to bring surf and weather.”

There’s always going to be questions of how much snow, and how the waves will shape up for the West Coast. It’s impossible to say for sure right now, but a week from now looks very, very promising. Stay tuned.


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