What a prolonged El Niño means for action sports

What does El Niño have in store for our favorite outdoors sports? Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

What does El Niño have in store for our favorite outdoor sports? Photo: Shutterstock

It’s already been a wacky 2015 in the weather department.

New England was buried under many feet of snow for most of the winter, while the Northwest was busy tweeting, “Old Man Winter … who?” Colorado skied and snowboarded up through June (and at least one guy is still going), but its swollen rivers have forced rafting companies to cancel portions of their summer runs.

These strange weather patterns are all part of an El Niño that has waned, but never fully given up. In fact, a few weeks ago, the weather gurus at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted that the 2015 El Niño could very well last the whole year and perhaps lead into the spring of 2016, delivering powerful storms off a warmer-than-normal Pacific Ocean to California and the Southwest and altering weather patterns throughout North America.

So what does this mean for our favorite action sports? We decided to do our best to channel Mother Nature and her crazy son to see which areas are winning and which are losing this time around.

Surfing

Maui could be looking at more days like this come fall this year. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Maui could be looking at more days like this come fall this year. Photo: Shutterstock

Winners: West Coast
Losers: East Coast
The lowdown: OK, the breakdown may seem a bit generic, but it really is pretty simple: warm Pacific temperatures mean more potential storms, including hurricanes, along the West Coast that could produce significant swell. For big-wave surfers in Hawaii and California, this should be an alarm bell. For the rest, it means you’ll have some pretty big days, so you better zip up your big-boy suit when you paddle out.

On the opposite end, the East Coast should expect less hurricane action; since that is one of the driving forces of legendary East Coast days, we could see less surf “epicness” for the remainder of the year. According to a CNN report in June, NOAA is predicting between six and 11 named storms for hurricane season, less than the normal median of 12.

Mountain biking

Low snow could mean longer mountain bike seasons for the PNW. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Low snow could mean longer mountain bike seasons for the PNW. Photo: Shutterstock

Winners: Pacific Northwest
Losers: Colorado, British Columbia
The low: This is a strange one. The Pacific Northwest was starved of snow last winter, but that actually helped mountain biking kick off earlier (read: April) than previous seasons and could keep it rolling well into late fall.

Unfortunately, its Canadian neighbors haven’t fared as well. Wildfires have been ravaging the region, with nearly 200 burning at some points this summer. Washington state could be in a similar situation come fall if rains don’t return to the region beforehand.

Colorado’s bike season got underway late thanks to a string of late snowstorms, and if El Niño continues its ebb and flow, the season may get snowed out early as well. Get your riding in now, Colorado!

Skiing and snowboarding

New England is hoping for a repeat of last year's deep winter, and they may be on track to get it. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

New England is hoping for a repeat of last year’s deep winter, and they may be on track to get it. Photo: Shutterstock

Winners: East Coast, California
Losers: Pacific Northwest, Montana
The low: The Pacific Northwest had the precipitation, but snow levels just never dropped last winter, leading to a disappointing series of snow events that turned to rain before lifts could start spinning. This is the traditional El Niño track, so if the weather event continues into 2016, it’s going to be another rough one in the upper left as well as much of the Montana and Idaho areas.

The East Coast was last year’s big winner, with a bunch of big winter storms dropping record totals on New England resorts. Expect the big storms to continue, and, if they manage to stay snow, another big Eastern winter.

California is supposed to be El Niño’s stomping ground, as it sends its wet Pacific storms onshore and dumps snow up into the mountains. Last year that never really materialized, but we’re staying optimistic that this year’s pattern will reflect the winter of ’97-’98, when Lake Tahoe was measuring snow in yards rather than inches.

Whitewater rafting and kayaking

A wild winter has made for serious rapid running in Colorado. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

A wild winter has made for serious rapid running in Colorado. Photo: Shutterstock

Winners: Montana, Wyoming
Losers: Colorado
The low: Large snowfall totals are a blessing for some, but for Colorado, the 2015 snowfall came at a tragic price. Melting snow has led to dangerously swollen rivers and an above-average number of river deaths: 11 deaths had been confirmed through the end of June, while Colorado’s previous average was less than 10.

For amateur rafters, this means cancelled trips down popular rivers like the Platte and Arkansas. For the more experienced, this means a whole different set of logistical hurdles for self-guided trips. Snowmelt may be calming down, but with river levels already high, a single rainstorm could change up rafting trips in a hurry.

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