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Does an Epic El Niño Mean Epic Adventure?

If you’ve paid any attention to the news in the past 3-4 months, chances are you’ve heard climate scientists talk about the recent warming of the Pacific Ocean as a sign that a monster El Niño is on its way. In fact, based on the data collected matched with prevailing weather conditions, forecasters anticipate it to be one of the strongest on record, equal or greater in strength than the beast we had back in ’97-98.

On the most basic level that means lots and lots of precipitation -- particularly welcome to those in the West, having suffered from devastating drought conditions lasting almost half a decade.

While scientists have yet to understand what exactly triggers an El Niño, certain conditions must be met before one can occur. It’s not enough for ocean temperatures to warm, as we found out last year, but the atmosphere must also respond in such a way that it weakens the trade winds, allowing storms that would normally occur in the western Pacific to shift further east.

Chile and Argentina have already received above average snowfall in 2015, great news if you’re a South American skier or snowboarder. But what does that mean for us adventure sports enthusiasts in the Northern Hemisphere? Will we reap the same benefits? Or will things fizzle like they did back in 2014?

That all depends.

The truth is, while we expect to see an above average increase in precipitation in the West, warm ocean temperatures also mean warmer temperatures inland, even during the winter months. The elevation at which water freezes will be higher in places like California, the Pacific Northwest – even Idaho and Montana – so if you’re looking to ski and snowboard it’s best to choose a resort with slopes above 8,000-9,000 feet. As for the Rockies, conditions are expected to vary. In some places snow levels may be below normal while other regions may see increased accumulation, so plan accordingly. Much like 2014, the East Coast will be the big winner, meaning New England resorts can once again rejoice knowing they’ll have more than enough fresh powder to satisfy both downhill and cross-country aficionados.

If you’re a surfer, you’ve probably heard about the 20-30 foot waves already happening on Oahu’s famed North Shore this October. The good news is, warm ocean temperatures offer the opportunity for more potential storms that will lead to significant swells both off the coast of Hawaii and California.

As far as mountain biking goes, the lack of snow at lower elevations means the season will most likely start sooner, depending on what you consider ideal conditions. Forecasters still anticipate plenty of precipitation heading into the spring and that means swollen rivers, creeks and lots of mud.

Which brings us to rafting and kayaking…

Excessive precipitation means fast water and dangerous rapids. For those booking trips down popular rivers, be it self-navigated or guided, this year it’s as important as ever to exercise caution before heading out. Water lines are already expected to be higher than in years previous; a quick cloudburst can change what began as a peaceful afternoon paddle into a frightening struggle for survival. While this may suit adrenaline junkies just fine, beginners may be better off calling ahead to check conditions prior to making a decision.

That being said, it’s important to know your limits and to avoid engaging in acts that may result in harm to yourself or others. With any luck, the upcoming months will be thrilling for adventure enthusiasts everywhere, regardless of sport. Just remember to enjoy it safely and responsibly to create lasting memories for years to come.

Tagged as: Outdoor, Cold Weather
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