It’s been a little while since the hype around El Niño has been brought up in the ski world, but predictions and observations are telling us that we could be seeing one of South America’s biggest winters in regards to precipitation in over a decade. Many of the newspapers in Chile and Argentina are beginning to speak of the weather cycle and how it could bring lots of rain to the cities causing severe flooding as it did in 1997, but for us that means lots of pow days! Let’s first take a step back and talk what El Niño actually is and how it relates to skiing in the Andes!
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 tradewinds that are blowing over the ocean to weaken and allow for more substantial storm systems to move east over the land.
What that means for skiing in South America
The warmer water and lack of trade winds over the pacific allows for warmer and more moisture heavy storms to cross into South America. The rain storms translate into snow in the high country, 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 champagne pow we have all grown to love.
It is still early to say for sure what will happen 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. In 1997 the temperature rose to 2 degrees above average and the country saw one of its deepest snowpacks and rainfall in history. After about 5 years of being in a drought Chile could use this one.
Fingers crossed that our boy El Niño is coming back for a visit!
Want to find out more about the best places to ski in the Andes? Check out our page regarding everything you need to know about skiing in South America! HERE