ENSO update

Friday, June 29, 2012 at 3:19 pm

Update (August 7, 2012):

Just a quick update today.  July was another hot month for the Wasatch front.  We saw a bit more rain than we saw in June, but still nothing significant.  Monsoon moisture has had a difficult time making it to Northern Utah in abundance.  However, Southern and Central Utah have seen plenty of storms and flash flooding.  As we march through August now, WSF expects more of the same.  There are indications that more significant moisture may make it to the Northern half of the state later this week with widespread showers and thunderstorms possible.  But overall, warmer than normal temperatures are expected over the next few weeks as strong high pressure continues to park itself in the four corners region.

As for the upcoming winter, we’re still waiting for the ENSO discussion to be released on Thursday before we say too much, but El Nino is still in the cards.  What that means for us depends on how strong of an El Nino it is.  More on that later this week . . .

Update (July 20, 2012):

Still looking for signs in the long term as to what kind of winter we can expect.  CFSv2 still showing El Nino-like conditions developing as stated in the previous discussion below.  It suggests that El Nino will strengthen as we enter the heart of winter.  Generally, El Nino favors areas south and west of the Wasatch, but there have been instances in which strong El Ninos have generated record snowfall (namely 1982-83).  Best guess right now is that we’ll have slower-than-normal start to the winter (can’t be as bad as last year, can it?) before winter kicks into gear in January, February, and March.  Too early to make any guesses as to exactly how we’ll compare to normal but conditions will not be favorable for storm development early on so we’ll have to hope we get lucky.  Just hope we don’t have to play “catch up” all winter long.

As for the upcoming week, ridge to our east over the Rockies will pull monsoonal moisture from the south into the area.  The will spawn afternoon and evening showers and thunderstorms over much of the state with the largest threat being in southern and eastern parts of the state as well as the higher terrain of the Wasatch and Uintas.  General moisture should hang over the area through at least Wednesday of next week.  Very typical mid-summer pattern for us.


June is always warm and fairly dry for the Wasatch.  But this year has been exceptionally hot and even drier than usual with many locations not seeing any measurable precipitation.  Couple that with the winter we just had and vegetation is very dry all over the west, leading to an earlier and more severe wildfire season than usual.  Weak troughs to our north have done just enough to kick up breezes at times which might make the heat slightly more tolerable, but is a firefighter’s worst nightmare.   That dry weather will continue for at least the next week, however there are signs that monsoon season will get going toward the middle of July.  That means isolated to scattered afternoon showers and thunderstorms will develop in the Wasatch mountains and hopefully the valleys as well.

The big news, however, is the ENSO development that has taken place over the past month in the Pacific.  Earlier this spring, it looked like we might have an ENSO-neutral year, but CFSv2 model has been consistent in showing at least a moderate El Niño developing.  For the Western United States, that generally means that the farther south your location, the more likely you are to have an above average snowfall year–the exact opposite of La Niña.  This map below shows the current forecast for December-February of 2012-2013, the heart of winter.  Cool colors indicate above average precip… warm colors, below average:

As you can see the Wasatch is slightly in drier-than-average area, whereas California and Arizona to our south and west are anticipated to receive well above average precip.  The Pacific is generally more active than normal in an El Niño year and Utah has a history of some pretty awesome snow years during El Niño, so I wouldn’t buy into the drier-than-normal scenario just yet, but I would definitely be excited for a possible epic year in Tahoe or Southern Utah/Northern Arizona.  Of course this is all very early and I could report back in a few weeks that the CFSv2 has back-tracked on this idea.  Worth reporting though . . .

We’ll have to see how this pans out!

Wasatch Snow Forecast

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  • ry

    Whatever you’re saying, I’ll say this. Here in Santa Barbara, CA were swimming in a warmer ocean than last year at this time. Last year was a no get in the water til August.

  • Kipp

    About every 10 years we’re due. Love it when it gets so deep you can’t see where you’re going. It’s time to tune and wax the Rad Air Tanker. Kipp