Mammoth weather guru Howard Sheckter: La Nina brings early teaser snow, strong 1Q storms

Posted By: The Ski Channel on September 8, 2010 1:06 pm

Everyone from Mammoth Mountain’s “weekend warriors” to die-hard locals have been trying to figure out what to make of this upcoming ski season. Last year, with the presence of El Nino, it was pretty much a slam dunk that Mammoth Mountain was going to get dumped on all year with tons of the white stuff. All those torrential down pours to the resort’s south brought epic snow conditions all season long.

Fast forward to this upcoming Winter 2010-11; scientists have predicted El Nino’s counterpart, La Nina. As a devout skier, when I first heard this news I became scared. Wouldn’t the opposite of El Nino mean a dry (read: no snow) winter for my beloved Eastern Sierra ski spot? I quickly began doing some of my own amateur research. Right of the bat, I found my initial worries to be unwarranted as La Nina does not just mean the polar opposite of whatever effects El Nino has over a given area. An amplified jet steam under La Nina brings a much more unpredictable weather system. La Nina might bring a week to ten days of storms, then dry up for quite a while.

It’s entirely possible this will be the scene at Mammoth again this upcoming winter.

After learning a bit more about this upcoming La Nina, I then consulted snowfall histories for previous Mammoth winters that fell during a La Nina year. The last moderate occurrence of a La Nina oscillation was from approximately mid 2007 through 2008 according to NOAA. The snow in Mammoth that year? 333.5 inches. Not too bad – considering Mammoth’s historical average is 342.5 inches.

Relieved from my conducting my own amateur weather research, I set out to find a more reputable source to give me the inside scoop on what to expect from this upcoming season. I turned to Mammoth’s resident weather guru, Howard Sheckter, in hopes he might be able to better predict when and how much powder will fall at my home ski resort.

“It’s really kind of early to do a snowfall prediction, but there are a few really good signs it’s going to be a good winter,” said Sheckter, “One of the best historical suggestions is the continued presence of Pacific troffing.”

Sheckter explained this effect has been responsible for producing “one of the coolest summers on record,” and that the troffing has been pushing the air inland over cold water. So far the troffing is continuing from the summer. As long as it does, the storm coming down the west coast will grow stronger as we move into fall. However, with that said, Sheckter said we could see a flip in the pattern anytime to a dry warmer fall, which may occur by the end of September.

“You’ll get some cold storms that shift up through the North/Northwest and can show up anywhere from mid-September to mid-October with some light snowfall,” said Sheckter.

However, these early storms are known as teasers for a reason. Periods of warmer weather usually follow these storms for 4-6 weeks before some brutally cold, unsettled weather appears from November to January.

“Your typical La Nina in Mammoth has teaser storms in the fall, before some pretty monster storms bring a lot of snow in the first quarter of the year, said Sheckter.

As for the length of the winter in Mammoth, Sheckter said winter usually ends a bit earlier with spring conditions showing up earlier, but this is not always the case.

The holy grail for Mammoth would be if the “Pineapple Connection” decides to make an appearance this winter. The Pineapple Connection, a complex meteorological phenomenon characterized by a strong and steady flow of moisture and heavy rainfall from the mid-Pacific, would be the epic storm we only dream of for Mammoth. Given the resort’s high elevation, we could be talking some real magic. Cross those fingers folks, and be sure to follow more of Howard Sheckter’s updates on his website throughout the season.