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Early snow doesn't mean big snow year — but 'weak' La Niñas might

CBC senior meteorologist says things look promising
WINTER IS COMING CBC News Network senior meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe says snow conditions for the winter ahead look promising. CBC VANCOUVER

For many, last week felt like the official start of winter.

Whistler received its first lasting snowfall, and the temperature dropped dramatically: from 12 degrees Celsius on Wednesday, Nov. 1 to two degrees the following day. And that's pretty much where it's stayed.

"That was a crazy switch!" said CBC News Network senior meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe.

"Everyone in the newsroom is talking about it," she said, speaking of the wider cold front that hit the province, causing snowfall in balmy Victoria and parts of the Lower Mainland.

Wagstaffe describes it as the "perfect set up." There was an early arctic front tracking down from the north and a low-pressure system forming off Vancouver Island.

The low-pressure system brought moisture and cold front brought cold air, resulting in snow, she explained.

What made it an unusual event was the fact that it came on the heels of a "summerlike ridge."

"We don't often get these big swings on the West Coast, so this was very unusual," said Wagstaffe.

Cold snaps and early snow can easily be interpreted as harbingers of a good snow year.

Wagstaffe, however, warned about putting too much stock in them.

The real indicator is what's going on in the Pacific Ocean. And, thankfully, it looks promising.

It looks like we are in for a "weak La Niña," said Wagstaffe.

"So the chances are higher it's going to be a colder winter than normal."

La Niñas are marked by lower than normal oceanic temperatures and more snow for the West Coast. The effect of the phenomenon generally kicks in in late November and continues through the winter, she said.

Wagstaffe's good-snow-year prediction is bolstered by Environment Canada's outlooks, which are also predicting a colder than normal winter.

Last season was a good one when it came to snow.

According to Whistler Blackcomb, Whistler received 1,779 centimetres of snowfall. That's higher than the mountain's average snowfall, 1,170 cm, and far higher than a bad year; in 2008-09, Whistler received just 930 cm.

Whistler's best years came in the 1970s, with the 1973 to 74 year producing a 504 cm base, due in large parts to heavy dumps through March and April.

Are we in for a big powder year?

That's the "question everyone wants to know," said Wagstaffe.

And while she's not overly bullish — the forecast looks good.

"While it probably won't be as crazy as last year, it's probably going to be an above normal season," she said.