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It could be another good snow year in northern Utah
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Predicting what the weather will do over the course of a winter season is about as easy as figuring out when a Las Vegas slot machine is going to pay off big.

This is especially true in a state such as Utah, which is on the fringe of being affected by La Niña and El Niño weather patterns.

As a rule, a La Niña pattern generally favors northern Utah ski areas with massive amounts of snow, as was the case last winter. El Niño events usually give southern Utah mountains more of the white stuff.

Taking that into consideration, weather forecaster Glen Merrill of the Salt Lake City office of the National Weather Service said he thinks the La Niña weather pattern could possibly lead to another good snow year in northern Utah.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, La Niña is characterized by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the Pacific. El Niño, on the other hand, is marked by warmer-than-normal ocean temperatures in that same region.

"It's hard to compare much to last year, which was an exceptional year," said Merrill. "The large-scale pattern shows we have entered into another La Niña. Typically what that does is form a more active storm branch on the northern track. Places like the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia and northern Rockies states such as Idaho and Wyoming get above-average snowfall."

The problem for forecasters is that Utah fits in the middle of most patterns.

"A lot of times, the north does see above-average snowfall in La Niña years," said Merrill. "But not every time."

Utah snow fans won't get much help from the 2012 edition of the Farmers' Almanac, either. It does not mention the Beehive State specifically while predicting a below-average amount of precipitation for Colorado this year. It said there still should be plenty of snow. Its forecast does call for a heavy blanket of snow hitting the southern Rockies right before Christmas, but calls for cold weather and average snowfall in the Rockies for the entire ski season.

Skiers excited about the early October snowstorm might want to think twice. Merrill said the storm is pretty typical.

"We typically get a cold, strong warm season-ending storm in early to mid-October and sometimes the mountains get significant snow up high in September," he said. "This was an exceptional event, but not out of the norm for this time of the year."

The forecaster is pretty confident of one thing:

"Alta is going to average 500 inches of snow this year," he said.

That should keep skiers happy much of the winter.

wharton@sltrib.comTwitter: @tribtomwharton

Weather • Predictions can be tricky, but patterns indicate a La Nina year.
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