Ask Joel Gratz for advice on skiing in Colorado as you approach a La Niña winter and he might suggest looking overseas.
“Maybe there should be a trip north and northwest,” he says.
That’s because the Boulder-based meteorologist behind OpenSnow.com, who is number one in the sport, sees the region’s powder chances better in the La Niña season.
These are seasons defined by above average temperatures along the central Pacific Ocean. Storms over the waters of La Niña historically mean more snow for the northern Rockies in Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.
“In addition, it will be much more cloudy,” says Gratz.
That applies to Colorado’s location on the map – “not too far north, not too far south,” says Gratz. And that for a multitude of variables that make up the nature of the weather, such as wind and temperatures, which are impossible to predict months in advance.
“Many things control where storms lead; it’s not just La Niña or El Niño, ”says Gratz. “The only reason we talk about La Niña and El Niño is because it’s one of the few things that control storm marks that gives us some degree of predictability over months.”
According to Gratz’s models, last season’s La Niña brought below-average snow figures to most of Colorado’s ski resorts for most of the winter.
“We spent about 80% of the average for most of the season,” says Gratz. “Fair is what I would call it.”
From his database he pulls a “weak” La Niña season 2016-17 and considers it “a good season for most places”. A similar type of La Niña accompanied 17-18, he says. That is “not a very good season for most places”. He describes the “moderate” La Niña of ’11 -’12 as “not good”.
Analyze La Niña and El Niño at will. In the end, “it’s really just a throw,” says Gratz.