Snow forecast 2023-24: El Niño returns

Sure, you can track historic weather patterns and chart the course of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) to try to predict the snow forecast for the coming 2023-24 ski season. But have you tried cutting into a persimmon fruit? Watching for two woodpeckers sharing a tree? Observing migration patterns?

There are many secrets to understanding weather, both scientific and traditional. But few have invested more time into the pursuit than Peter Geiger, managing editor of The Farmers’ Almanac.

So I went to the source to find out more about what he knows and how he knows it, to help gauge the 2023-24 snow forecast for Western Canada.

Photo: Nick Fewings
Canada geese on their annual migration.

Only the seventh managing editor in the 200-year plus history of the publication, Geiger is the inheritor of a secret formula that parses science, 200-plus years of historical weather data and natural observation to arrive at an annual winter forecast that is over 80% accurate spanning 200-plus years.

(He’s also an avid snowshoer, ice-fisher and accomplished paddler who’s helmed giant pumpkins down the river in his home state of Maine, but that’s another story.)

2023-24 snow forecast for Western Canada

The upshot? Despite climate change, wildfires and the return of El Niño, the snow forecast is actually looking pretty decent, Geiger says.

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“Each year has its own challenges, and just because it’s hot in the summer doesn’t mean it’s going to be hot in the winter,” Geiger reassured me. The Almanac has titled their 2024 winter forecast for Canada “The BRRR is Back,” which says something.

“We should have more traditional winter weather for Canada this winter,” Geiger adds. “There are some heavy doses of snow [coming], which will be good for skiing. I think skiers and snowboarders in Western Canada will be pretty delighted this winter.”

Big picture: we can expect a more typically cold winter for Western Canada, with average to above average (at times) snowfall across Alberta and BC.

As for some of those more naturalist types of observations—the persimmon seed, squirrel behaviours, migration patterns and more—Geiger views them as an interesting window into the natural world, even if today’s formula doesn’t rely on them for its forecast.

“Before there was anything, there were people gathering observations, whether it was squirrels gathering nuts early, acorns falling from trees earlier or the hair on a cow, the thickness of corn husks… you know, weather is interesting but… if you go back to the 1700s, 1800s, people had to be prepared, they observed.”

(For a deeper look into traditional, naturalist weather observation, check out the Almanac's list of 20 signs of a hard winter, under "More Snow Study" below.)

El Niño: another 2016-17 snow year?

So, if we're going on the Farmers' Almanac, there are reasons to be optimistic about this year's snow forecast.

Couple the Almanac’s outlook with the long-term El Niño pattern, which the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association predicts is 95% likely to continue through winter.

A geo-map by the Weather Network demonstrates the ENSO effect in action.

With El Niño’s effects strongest in the Northern Hemisphere in winter and early spring, warmer temperatures in the southern atmosphere could push more storms upwards from the equator towards the northwest.

The last strong El Niño in winter 2016-17 saw a heavy snow year in Vancouver, southern Ontario and the Atlantic Provinces, with some heavy storms in the Rockies between late January and March. Snowfall tracking website ranks the 2016-17 ski season among the top 5 snow years in North America for skiing.

So if we get an El Niño winter that behaves similar to 2016, it may be a good year to plan a few more days on the hill. 

However, the Weather Networks signals caution: if El Niño gets too strong, the jet stream (white arrow line above) pushes too far north and means warmer and drier winter days in the West.

Weaker, and that ridge of pressure comes down, and brings better winter weather for snow lovers.

Where will the snow be, when

When will the snow be deepest? The farther out the forecast, the harder it is to predict.

And yet, here are some pretty specific predictions from the Almanac.

Early season snow days for Alberta

"We talk about early November being cold with some wet snow in Alberta, mid-November, then heavier snow in December [close to Christmas] so there are some heavy doses of snow," Geiger predicts.

BC snow for January, February  

"In interior British Columbia we see heavy snowfall in January and early February, and even into March and April," he adds.

A few more predictions are offered up on the Farmers' Almanac site to help with those later season ski trip plans.

Early February pow in the Rockies
“Heavy mountain snows over the Rockies and Prairies during the first week of February”

A snowboarder looks out over Boomerang Bowl at Lake Louise Ski Area.

Late March like a lion
“March could go out like a lion with stormy conditions nationwide”

White easter in the east
“A white Easter Sunday seems possible for southern Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.” (And we know we’ll still be skiing out West, with our longer spring ski season extending into April and even, at some resorts, May.)

Getting into the deeps at Powder King.

All of which seems some pretty solid intel for building out your winter ski trips and weekend plans.

Any more detailed than that, and you’ll want to be sure to bookmark our snow conditions page, which delivers the daily ski condition reports from all of your favourite Alberta and BC ski resorts. 

But really, as long as you’re outdoors shredding snow it’s hard to go wrong, isn’t it?

More snow study

For those of you who want to go even deeper into weather patterns, you can subscribe to the Farmers' Almanac online edition for Canada.

You can read up on 20 signs of a hard winter here, or about Peter Geiger's pumpkin sailing exploits.

How does last year’s forecast compare to this year’s?
Read our snow forecast for 2022-23 and check out our 2022-23 photo retrospective, as captured by readers.

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