Skiers and riders across Northwest Montana are waxing their skis and boards in anticipation of opening day. Whitefish Mountain Resort is set to open on Dec. 7. An opening day has not yet been set for the region’s two other ski areas, Blacktail Mountain Ski Area in Lakeside and Turner Mountain near Libby.
Meanwhile, meteorologists with the National Weather Service say a wet and cold winter could arrive by Christmas.
Bob Nester, a meteorologist with NWS in Missoula, says there is about a 70 percent chance that La Niña conditions will persist through the winter. A La Niña means that Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures near the equator are cooler than normal that can result in cool, wet weather systems in the Pacific Northwest. Last winter also featured a weak La Niña and is remembered for deep snow and cold temperatures, although Nester notes that is not always a guarantee.
“Not every La Niña is a sure thing,” Nester said.
Nester said that on average, Kalispell gets 31.4 inches of snow every winter. But when taking the average of all past La Niña winters on record, the city has received an average of 47.1 inches of snow. During weak La Niña winters, the temperature is also an average of 3 degrees colder than normal. Similar conditions will be found across the Pacific Northwest and Northern Rockies.
The meteorologist said the primary driver of cold and wet winters during La Niña conditions are polar jet streams that come from Alaska and head southwest to the continental United States.