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La Nina anticipation building

Long- and short-term forecast looking good for Whistler Blackcomb



The raison d'être for most Whistlerites has nothing to do with fate. Most of us are here - in this granite-ribboned, monolithic mountain valley - thanks to calculated deployment and a devotion to snow. The gentle irony is that if Mother Nature decides to skew the typical winter output, there is nothing to be done but hope that the next one is better.

But history has a way of reassuring the space-time continuum and it tells us that there is a good chance there will be ample flurries on the hills during the upcoming ski season.

"I think... unlike last year, the winter will be longer everywhere. I think it will start earlier and go later, I think it will be more traditional, typical, it will be more fitful and fickle, and there will be more variety," said David Phillips, senior climatologist at Environment Canada in Toronto.

"Last year was the year we cancelled winter. This year will be one where there is something for everybody. There will be moments you are cursing it, there will be moments you will be blessing it, depending on what your wish is. I think it will be better for outdoor recreation."

To create the perfect winter conditions for the Coast Mountains, a combination of factors must take place thousands of kilometres away in the equatorial Pacific. That's where a powerful weather phenomenon dubbed "La Niña" (Spanish translation, "The Girl") is born and begins nudging colder-than-normal seawater towards the surface. In turn, the ocean's temperature affects the Jet Stream, consequently altering the weather between California and British Columbia for the worse or the better, depending on one's perspective. Riding on her broad shoulders are two fairly dependable attributes - colder-than-normal temperatures and increased precipitation.

"It's a tough challenge to get the weather right from day-to-day, let alone from season-to-season, but El Niño and La Niña do give you a fighting chance," said Phillips. "Our skill scores are much higher under those circumstances than if those things weren't brewing and blowing and dominating the weather. Certainly, if we were looking at the past 50 years, we would be fools not to bank on the fact that it was going to be a colder and generally a snowier winter."

The most sophisticated weather observation systems on the planet can't provide a guarantee for long-term weather forecasting. In fact, the whole scientific realm of climatology is a slippery, dubious practice based more on historical patterns than accurate measurements. To complicate the matter, weather patterns like El Niño and La Niña come with their fair share of anomalies. Out of the last 18 La Niña winters in B.C., 13 were true to form - cold and wet. The other five were the opposite. However, of those five warmer-than-normal La Niñas, three have taken place in the past decade. Phillips says global warming and climate change are likely factors for the increase, as large-scale atmospheric phenomena make weather patterns less dependable.

Over the past week, Whistler Blackcomb employees have been snapping photos of snow-capped picnic tables and heavily blanketed woods. While rumours circulate about early openings and record-breaking dumps, local authorities say everything will happen in good time.

"You can't rely on much longer than a five-day forecast but these ones look quite good - we have a snow line around mid-mountain right now," said Stuart Rempel, senior vice-president of marketing and sales for Whistler Blackcomb. "Our plan is to open both mountains on the 25 th of November. If we can open early we will try to but the criteria would be that we would need at least a metre of snow on the ground at the Roundhouse Lodge level to proceed with opening, but if it can happen we're excited. If we can open early, that would be fantastic."

Rempel isn't too worried about the snow levels this winter, and says Whistler Blackcomb is waiting for temperatures to drop and stabilize to start operating the sophisticated and greatly expanded snow making machines on the lower half of the mountain.

Last winter Whistler welcomed the second best snowfall the resort has ever seen - 1,432 centimeters, or 47 feet had fallen when the numbers were tallied in early April.



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