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With summer drawing to a close and schools starting back this week it’s that time of year when talk turns to winter with predictions about the sort of season we can expect. So it’s little wonder that discussions about El Niño have started appearing in our news feeds. But what is El Niño? And how might it affect us here in the Alps? If like me, you’ve heard its name but never really known the cause, or what effect it might have, here’s a little Science lesson about the effects of an El Niño year on the Alps. Every day’s a school day….

06.03.15 New Generation Ski and Snowboard School PIC © Andrew Lloyd

Essentially El Niño is the name given to a weather pattern caused by warming sea temperatures in the Pacific ocean, off the shores of South America, which has implications on global weather. Already this year the warming effects are strengthening rapidly, showing signs of being even stronger than the el Niño of 1997 which is the the strongest El Niño recorded so far. In addition, the water North along the Western coast of the US right up to Alaska is also showing signs of warming this year. Together these two signs are indicative of a strong el Niño year ahead.

This growing El Niño brings with it some good and bad news. It’s greatest effects will be felt in the Pacific and the neighbouring countries. The good news is that tropical cyclone activity is reduced normally in an El Niño year, a welcome relief to areas often devastated by such storms. That said, parts of North America will experience heavy rain with increased precipitation. While heavy rain might be good news for states like California which has been experiencing a bad drought this summer, in may also cause landslides and devastation. In contrast, parts of South America, South East Asia and Northern Australia are expecting lower than average precipitation which could cause drought conditions to many areas.

But lets cut to the chase…. how will this affect us over here in the Alps?

The effects will be much less pronounced than around in the Pacific and it is hard to predict how much influence it will have. But a strong El Niño should bring really cold temperatures. Which should help snow conditions and make any artificial snow created last longee. Plus it should hopefully hold off the rain in some of the lower resorts. The downside? It could also be dry. So lets just hope when it falls, it falls hard, and then the cold temperatures will help it stay through to Spring. We’d be happy to don our Merino thermals all winter if it keeps the pistes in tip top condition. Although we might need to invest in boot warmers…. Did we mention it’s only 12 weeks ’til the first lifts open? Excited, us?!