La Niña: What does it mean?

It seems that la Niña is back for another year…so what does that mean exactly?

According to meteorologist Joel Gratz, “La Nina means that water temperatures in a large area of the central Pacific Ocean (around the equator) are below normal.” Gratz explains. “These below normal water temperatures influence global weather patterns, and for the U.S. this typically means more snow falls in northern areas while less snow falls in southern areas.”

This is Gratz’ regional breakdown for 2012:

• 125-150% of average. La Niña strongly favors the Pacific Northwest with lots and lots (and lots) of snow.

• A typical La Niña produces about average snow for Tahoe and below average for SOCAL.
• However, last season the storm track shifted south over California and hammered Tahoe with 150+% of average and buried Mammoth. Anything can happen.

• Northern areas like Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming should do very well (125-150% of average).
• Utah and northern Colorado should be above average (100-125%) but there’s less confidence in this outlook since these areas are in the middle (not too far north or south).
• Average or below average snow is typical for La Niña in southern Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. But last season southern Colorado did OK as did Arizona.

• Northern areas (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan) could see very heavy snow and cold weather.
• Further south from these areas is harder to predict – could go either way (don’t you love when a weatherman says that?)

• Northern New England should see the best snow (125% of average) while southern New England could see snowfall closer to average levels.

• The highest mountains of the southeast could see a bit drier winter with temperatures above normal. But it only takes one big storm to drive cold air south and crank out a few feet of snow for the Appalachians.


*Joel Gratz is a meteorologist and founder of the website Open Snow, dedicated to providing riders and shops with quick, accurate regional snow reports.


I am a snowboarder and action sports pundit from Atlanta, GA. The opinions I express are entirely my own.

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