By NICK SIRIANNO
This year has brought particularly strange weather conditions. Sometimes it is cold, sometimes it is warm, raining, snowing, sleeting, hailing, sunny, etc. It seem as though nature can’t makes up its mind when it comes to combining weather conditions with the appropriate time of year.
For example, during the week preceding Halloween, New York City received a record three inches of snow—more snow than NYC has seen in October since 1869! We up here in the so-called “snowy North Country” felt the chill of winter up our thighs and on our bare chests as we walked to the Outing Club’s infamous Halloween party. Snow was falling and outside the sweaty tent, all we wanted to do was to go back to the safety of our dorms to cuddle up with a black swan white swan combo, the entire Jamaican bobsled team, or for the not as socially inclined, Jack Daniels. It was freezing, and all the skiers, including myself, were welcoming the thought of getting in at least two weekends of skiing before Thanksgiving break. However, as we know now, winter was not really on its way and wouldn’t be for a long time.
Denver, Colorado was experiencing eighty degree temperatures during their Halloween while we were being careful not to slip on black ice on the way back to our dorms. The West Coast heat was coming over the Pacific, warming California, then Colorado, then the Midwest, regardless of the cooling Great Lakes, and finally the East. It would be warm and rainy for a week or so, then temperatures would drop to what is “normal” for the winter months. Spirits would rise at the thought of another snowy winter but then rain would start and temperatures would soar back into the 40’s and 50’s. This pattern would continue for, well . . . who knows how long.
Today’s climate is much different than anything we as college students have ever been used to. But, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), this is not extremely rare and in fact the United States has had multiple winters like this. So the question isn’t whether this is a product of global warming; I am not experienced enough to say whether global warming is happening or not. Yes the climate is changing, that is natural, but the question is why this year it feels like we have no snow considering last year we had over twenty-five power days at Whiteface.
So, we have to ask ourselves what is the reason for such a dry winter. Well, winter is the most dynamic season. It is when we are furthest away from our main source of energy, yet we still depend on it. Therefore, winter is a product of years of seasonal fluctuations like rainfall, pressure, and temperature. Winter responds to the earth’s atmospheric fluctuations independently rather than dependently. This means that this winter’s lack of snowfall is actually more a product of last year’s atmospheric conditions than the current conditions of the atmosphere.
What was it like last year that caused us to “watch out for rocks” on the slopes this year? Meteorologist of the National Weather Service, Zach Tolby, explains this in terms that the average skier can understand. He says, “Last year was a strong La Niña with the stationary high pressure further south and west of the coast allowing the jet stream and associated storm track to drop out of the Gulf of Alaska and bring copious amounts of precipitation to the Sierra. This season the La Niña signal is weaker with a high pressure ridge over the west coast allowing very little precipitation to make it to the Sierra. It is important to understand that La Niña can either be wet or dry and rarely brings average precipitation.. There are other oscillations that couple with La Niña and have an impact on whether we end up with above or below average precipitation.”
This year is a dry La Niña, but it seems like snow is on its way! It is rare for a winter to stay as dry as it has been. At some point, the storm clouds will stick around, and the average precipitation will balance itself out. There is no way to tell when this will happen, but we can hope that the snow is here to stay!