It’s official. The Pacific Ocean is in the midst of its strongest warming trend since the 1990s, the phenomenon now affectionately known as El Niño. “A dozen or so long-standing official records have already been broken during this El Niño,” says Vic DeJesus, a longtime forecaster for NOAA and FEMA Hurricane Liaison based in Honolulu. “And it’s still early. We expect the warming cycle in the Pacific to continue with a high probability that it will last well into spring of 2016.”
What does that mean? Snow — and lots of it. But where exactly it’s going to land isn’t so clear. Factors like the ever-changing jet stream and a “blob” of warm water off the Pacific Coast will determine which ski resorts get hit and which don’t. The biggest unknown with this year’s “Godzilla” El Niño, as weather nerds have dubbed it, is temperature. If storms roll in with warmer-than-average temperatures, many at lower elevations could get rain instead of snow. Some areas might even have a drier than normal winter, which is sure to have locals cursing all this over-hyped, snow-mongering rhetoric.
“The good news,” says Joel Gratz, the founding meteorologist at Opensnow.com, “is that a very strong El Niño like this one will have a relatively consistent effect on weather patterns.” So while there isn’t a lot of data out there about a “Godzilla” sized El Niño like this one, there’s just enough to help us make an educated guess about what will happen this winter. The short answer? “If I were a betting man,” says Gratz, “I would look toward the entire Southwest.” With that, here are your best bets for bottomless powder, with a region-by-region breakdown of what to expect across the U.S. and North America.