El Niño We Can’t Quit You

Skepticism, faith, and desperation in the face of big El Niño long-term forecasts

We know a few people at Mount Baker who are hoping this El Niño helps produce turns like this. PHOTO: Grant Gunderson
We know a few people at Mount Baker who are hoping this El Niño helps produce turns like this. PHOTO: Grant Gunderson

I first heard the report on NPR. They were predicting another El Niño year. But not just that—they said it was going to be the biggest El Niño since ’97/98. Indeed, Bill Patzert, a climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, told Northern California’s KQED, “This is much stronger than we’ve seen—this is the biggest signal since 1997. Not a puny El Niño but a Godzilla El Niño.”

And just like that, I was roped back in. (Read this for an understanding of how the Niño affects snowfall.) No matter how many times El Niño breaks our heart with false promises, we’ll always come back for more. El Niño is the ski industry’s lover we pretend to be over but will always hold out hope for. Maybe he’ll come around this time. Maybe he’s changed. We just can’t quit that son of a bitch.

At the time I was listening to NPR’s report, I was driving past a burn area in drought-ravaged Southern California. The fire occurred last year, when similar reports emerged regarding an ultimately unfulfilling El Niño. It was a reminder to stay skeptical, but also, of how much is on the line. It’s not just ski communities whose economic and environmental stability would greatly benefit from an El Niño that actually followed through.

So forgive me if I’m getting my hopes up a little bit, but we all need this. —John Clary Davies