Utah’s winter predictions are ‘kind of a big shrug emoji,’ says meteorologist
Utah experienced an epic, record-breaking snowfall last winter. It was a skiers’ paradise and a snow-shoeing dream. But to put it frankly, don’t place money that the same winter wonderland will happen again this upcoming season.
The probability of two record-breaking winters in a row is not totally “out of the question,” said Monica Traphagan, senior meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City, but the odds are “extremely low.”
Rather, the winter weather pattern, at least from November to January, is really up in the air.
“It's looking like equal chances of above average or below average precipitation, which I guess is in some ways kind of a big shrug emoji,” said Traphagan.
It is an El Niño year, which usually results in more precipitation. But Utah is unique. El Niño isn’t a defining factor of how the winter will play out like it is in other parts of the county, such as the Pacific Northwest.
Casey Olson, climate data analyst for the Utah Climate Center, said El Niño doesn’t have a “strong statistical relationship” with the northern part of the state. That’s mostly because of where Utah is located. El Niño tends to affect the jet stream or the storm track and Utah is “right in the middle between those two largest impacts.” In other words, we’re tucked away from the areas most affected by El Niño.
Southern Utah is the mild exception since it’s closer to the southwestern section of the jet stream.
“In our sample of El Niños in the past is that southern Utah is slightly favored to be a bit wetter in El Niño,” said Traphagan. “On average there's not a strong indication either way, maybe a slight indication that southern Utah might see some more precipitation.”
A better indication of what the winter could look like, Olson said, are the wet and dry oscillation cycles Utah encounters. And Utah entered into the wet cycle last year.
“We would not be shocked to see a wetter than average winter this season,” he said.
More precipitation doesn’t necessarily mean more snow, though. Traphagan expects winter temperatures to be a little higher than normal, which could result in more rain. If there is more rain and warmer conditions, the snow tends to be more dense and less like the powder Utah is famous for.
“Having higher than normal temperatures may give you snow that isn't quite as favorable for skiing, for example,” Traphagan said.