2006 | El Niño ‘raises some alarms’

If you ski or snowboard, you don’t need to speak Spanish to understand an El Niño is “muy malo.”

The last El Niño brought Washington its worst ski and snowboard season on record in 2004-05. With a moderate El Niño occurring this season, Brad Colman of the National Weather Service said, “There’s nothing to be encouraged about.

“But it’s not the kiss of death,” said Colman, the meteorologist in charge of the Seattle office. “It just raises some alarms.”

What’s an El Niño? The warming of surface waters of the Pacific Ocean near the equator affecting the weather pattern. An El Niño typically means warmer and drier winters in the Northwest, but good ski conditions in Tahoe and Utah.

How bad were previous El Niños? In 2004-05, skier visits to Washington’s six resorts dropped 73.6 percent (491,537 visits, down from 1.9 million). The 2002-03 El Niño led to a 33.3 percent drop (1.4 million, down from 2.2 million). The ’97-’98 El Niño resulted in a drop of fewer than 3,000 visits from the previous year’s 1.6 million.

What to wish for? An early snow dump that will create a base that will stick around through the dry spells, Colman said.

What’s the good news? “El Niños often end well with a late winter,” Colman said.

This was the case in 2004-05. However, resort general managers say many skiers and boarders didn’t realize this because they gave up on the season early.