El Niño Affects on The South American Winter

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It has been several years since the hype around El Niño has been brought up in the latin american ski world, but predictions and observations are telling us that 2019 could be seeing one of South America’s biggest winters in regards to precipitation since 2015.

Many of the media sources in both Chile and Argentina are beginning to speak of the weather cycle and how it could bring rain to the cities causing flooding in the lower elevations and heavy snow in the mountains.

Let’s first take a step back and talk about what El Niño actually is and how it relates to skiing in South America.

Forecasters from NOAA say El Niño gained strength in February 2019 and that there is an 80% chance El Niño conditions will continue through spring (South America's fall). There is a 60% chance it will last through the Northern Hemisphere's summer (South America's winter).


What is El Niño?

El Niño occurs when the ocean temperature increases substantially in the Equatorial Pacific, as opposed to La Niña, which characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific.

The increase in water temperature causes the normal trade winds that are blowing over the ocean to weaken and allow for more substantial storm systems to move east over the land. In this case, The Andes Mountain chain.

What El Nino means for skiing in South America

The warmer water and lack of trade winds over the Pacific Ocean allows for warmer and more moisture heavy storms to cross into South America. The rain storms translate into snow in the high country of Chile and Argentina.

el nino powder in chile with team Dakine

Due to the Andes dry and arid climate these storms actually dry out crossing over the desert before rising to the mountains to produce snow storms with a lower snow water content also known as that classic deep “chile powder” we all love and dream about.

credit @climatesociety

1997-1998 Was the Biggest El Nino on Record

In 1997-1998 (the same year PowderQuest founder arrived to Chile), the ocean temperature rose to 2 degrees above average and Chile saw one of its deepest snowpacks and rainfall in history.

In Portillo ski resort, it snowed 157 inches in only five days during a strong El Niño fueled winter storm.

It is still early to say for sure what will happen this upcoming season, but the Chilean authorities are already estimating the water temperature off the coast of Chile to rise at least 1 degree above the average due to El Niño.

Although not expected to be nearly as strong as 1997, fingers crossed that El Niño is coming back for a visit this winter to Chile and Argentina’s ski resorts.