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The Shape of Winter to Come

by Dan Giesin | October 15, 2019

For many skiers and snowboarders, October is a lot the days just before Christmas — the anticipation of tearing into the goodies is palpable but you just have to wait for Santa to deliver.

Oh, is he — or winter —ever gonna come?

There have been some early and highly provocative sightings: Huge dumps of September powder in the northern Rockies; early-October cold fronts blasting through the mountains of Colorado; a promise of major snowfall in the Cascades in the coming days; some resorts getting a jump-start on the season by spinning their lifts already (hello, A-Basin and Keystone), others cranking up the snow guns (hey, Killington).

You can just feel the excitement build.

And as we whet our appetite on these tantalizing precursors to winter, we can help but wonder: What will the main course be like?

For that we go to the experts — some more so than others — to gaze into their crystal balls and tell us what the winter of 2019-20 will be like. The short take: You can make of these predictions what you want; there’s something for everybody.

How the government sees it

For the “official” word about the coming season, we turn to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which looks at trends and possibilities to make its forecasts. (Remember this caveat: Any weather predictions more than 10 days in advance should be accepted very warily.)

The NOAA long-range outlook for the December-February period calls for temperatures above average in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, the Sierra Nevada, the Southwest and the East Coast mountains and slightly above average in the Rockies.

Precipitation amounts are expected to be above average in Alaska, the Northern Plains and the Great Lakes region while the rest of the American ski world will have an equal chance of above-average, average or below-average amounts of rain/snow.

As for the El Niño or La Niña effect, the analysts and number crunchers for America’s official weather prognosticator say there will be a 41 percent chance of the former, a 10 percent chance of the latter and a 49 percent chance that neither will occur. The NOAA predicted a weak to moderate El Niño last winter, and you saw what happened there, particularly in the Sierra.

What the Farmers have to say

For a less official outlook, let’s turn to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which for the past 200+years has used “a mathematical and astronomical formula” to make its predictions.

They’re saying that the coming winter will be “wet or worse” in the western Pacific Northwest, “dry and chilly” in the Sierra, “low temps and deep powder” in the western, central and southern Rockies, “wet and wild” in New England and “a parade of snowstorms” across the northern tier of states from eastern Washington to the Great Lakes.

The Farmer’s Almanac, which hasn’t been around quite as long as the Old Farmer’s Almanac but uses a similar style of forecasting, says it will be “chilly with normal precipitation” in the Pacific Northwest and Northern Rockies, “cool with normal precipitation” in the Sierra, Wasatch and the Southwest, “frigid and snowy” down the spine of the Rockies from Montana to New Mexico, and “cold with a wintry mix” in New England.

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