Man skiing on Renoun Citadel downhill skis through a powder field at a ski resort

Prep your skis: La Niña is coming this winter.

Written by: Lucy Higgins

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Tune your skis, a La Niña season is approaching. On June 13, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a “ diagnostic discussion ” from their Climate Prediction Center stating, “La Niña is favored to develop during July-September (65% chance) and persist into the Northern Hemisphere winter 2024-25 (85% chance during November-January).” 


That’s a fancy way to say that the western U.S. is in for a snowy winter 2024/’25. We’ve broken down what a La Nina year really means, and where to head this season. 


What is La Niña?

Weather patterns under normal conditions map provided by NOAA
Credit - NOAA
Weather patterns caused by la niña effect provided by NOAA
Credit - NOAA

Before we get lost in powder dreams, let’s break down what, exactly, a La Niña phase entails. The phenomenon is best understood as half of a whole: it’s the cool phase of a climate pattern across the tropical Pacific called the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, or ENSO. La Niña and El Niño (the warm phase), irregularly shift back and forth every two to seven years, and in doing so, create changes in ocean surface temperatures and wind and rainfall patterns throughout the tropics. 


NOAA compares the shift in rainfall—how much and where it falls—to dropping a boulder in a stream. As rainfall shifts, it changes atmospheric circulation patterns that connect the tropics to middle latitudes. That, in turn, modifies mid-latitude jet streams, which affects temperature and precipitation in the U.S. And that influence is strongest from December to February. Whew, we made it to winter.

La Niña's here. Now What?

Map of temperature and precipitation patterns in the U.S. during a la niña winter
Credit - Powder

In a La Niña cycle, jet streams shift north across the U.S., bringing cold and snowy weather across Canada and the northwest part of the U.S. It’s great news for skiers in the Pacific Northwest and the Rockies, and less predictable for those on the East Coast. The southern half of the U.S. typically see less precipitation than usual—a concern for drought-prone regions, like California. 

Where’s the best place to take advantage of a La Niña year?

In short, head north and head west. The Pacific Northwest and Rockies are expected to have a wetter season than is typical, putting resorts like Whistler, British Columbia, Whitefish, Montana, and Mt. Baker, Washington high on the travel list. Fun fact: In the 1998/’99 season, Mt. Bakerset a world record for snowfall with 1,140 inches of snow. The record came as part of three consecutive La Niña winters, spanning from 1998 to 2001. 


While snow is nearly impossible to predict with any exactness, tracking La Niña seasons is a good guarantee that, no matter the precise measurement, that season’s turns will be deep. And if that’s the case, those in the continental northwest are in luck this winter. 

Photo of Author Lucy Higgins while skiing
Credit - Lucy Higgins

The Author: Lucy Higgins

Lucy is a seasoned editor and writer with a background in magazine publishing and creative directing. Formerly the Editor-in-Chief at Backcountry Magazine, she now works as a freelance writer and editor.


When Lucy's not at a desk, she can be found running, skiing, and spending time with her toddler. 

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