: Mt. Hood on October 30, 2018. Photo by Asit Rathod

Powder Alert

The first fresh snowfall on the mountaintops signals the beginning of a new winter season!
November 2, 2018

Welcome to Snow Season

Note: This page will be updated frequently throughout the ski season to alert you of approaching storm systems and powder.

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The Cascades picked up the first significant snowfall of the season this week, with 11 inches falling at Timberline Lodge & Ski Area on Mt. Hood, six inches falling in Government Camp and five inches at Mt. Bachelor.

As exciting as this is, it brings up BIG QUESTIONS ABOUT SKI SEASON.

The first of which just gets right to the nut of it all and is probably one you’ve been asking yourself: SHOULD I BUY A SEASON PASS?

I’ll circle back to that one at the end, since every other question I ask and answer here will inform that answer. Or not. Buying a season’s pass is a deeply personal decision. Like voting. Which I hope you do by Tuesday no matter how much snow I forecast.

I HEAR IT’S AN EL NIŃO YEAR. WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

An El Niño is developing. The semi-regular pattern of above normal ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific has an impact on the position of the jet stream. The jet stream guides storms and when in it’s usual wintertime position, delivers the powdery goods you crave all winter.

During a “typical” El Niño pattern, a subtropical jet stream becomes a regular feature across the southern tier of states. The usually means healthy snowfall to the south, but can leave the Northwest on the dry side.

But all El Niño’s are different and they don’t always deliver the “typical” pattern. Think about the last two winters, both of which were La Niña years. We celebrate La Niña because it’s the “anti-El Niño” and typically brings above average snowfall to Oregon. That was certainly the case in 2016/17, which was an epic season from December through spring.

But last year, also a La Niña, was far different. The season got going around Christmas, with skiing conditions more characteristic of spring dominating through March, when frequent cold storms brought the heaviest snowfalls of the season. I remember them fondly as I plied the powder on several days from Mt. Hood to Mt. Bachelor that first week of the March and several more times after that.

Which brings up an interesting point. Our snowpack ended up right around average last year. Does that match your experience or perception of what the ski season was like? My point is—there’s a lot more that goes into a great season than just how much snow we end up with at the end of the year!

WHAT ABOUT VALLEY SNOW? I WANT TO SKI MT. TABOR OR ANOTHER LOCAL PARK.

All indications are that it’s likely not going to be a big valley snow year. This doesn’t preclude that ONE BIG DUMP that paralyzes the valley and leaves because me stuck at work doing wall to wall coverage while you all are out playing in the snow. I know, poor weatherman. But seriously, leave the parks to the sleds and head for the Cascades, there’s almost always snow.

YEAH, BUT LET’S TALK EL NIŃO SOME MORE.

This is a weak El Niño, and it’s not a classic one, given the distribution of ocean temperature anomalies. That is, where the unusually warm water is. Looking back, I’ve seen weak El Niño years that have given us plenty of snow. And consider that the Cascades get a lot of snow! So even a below average year in total snowpack at the end of the season can mean many days of powder glory along the way!

Anticipating the first turns of the season at Mt. Hood on October 30, 2018. Photo by Asit Rathod

WHAT ABOUT ALL THAT DRY WEATHER WE HAD IN OCTOBER?

It was washed away by rain over the last week, and October, in spite of that incredible run of dry weather for two solid weeks, ends up with above average precipitation. Let that be a reminder of how any ski season go. There will be bluebird runs and powder runs. Try to enjoy both.

SO WHAT’S MY MAIN TAKEAWAY?

This is a weak El Niño, and it’s not a classic one, given the distribution of ocean temperature anomalies. That is, where the unusually warm water is. Looking back, I’ve seen weak El Niño years that have given us plenty of snow. And consider, the Cascades always get a lot of snow! So even a below average year in total snowpack the end of the season can mean many days of powder glory along the way!

I can tell you I’m not worried about a lack of snow in the Cascades this winter. I hope this helps!

Matt Zaffino

KGW Chief Meteorologist

About The
Author

Matt Zaffino
KGW News Chief Meteorologist Matt Zaffino has been forecasting weather in Oregon for 32 years. He’s an avid skier and outdoor lover who’s summited most of the major Cascade peaks and run sixteen marathons. Matt lives in Portland with his wife and five-year-old son who’s been on skis ever since he could walk.

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