El Niño at EOU

Eastern Oregon University, often referred to as Oregon’s rural university, is known for its small size, wide range of educational paths offered, and impeccable location. One of EOU’s many attractions for incoming students and staff is the incredible outdoor opportunities present in this area. In the warmer months, Eastern Oregon boasts a wide variety of trails open to the public, an assortment of bodies of water, and diverse ecosystems. In the winter months, Eastern Oregon is dependable in terms of having quite a bit of snow. This makes excellent conditions for skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, or perhaps snowshoeing. La Grande’s close proximity to Anthony Lakes Ski Area acts as a sort of hub for such activities, with the motto of the resort being, “Where skiers go for powder snow”.

In this 2023-2024 winter season though, the snow has not made its usual and expected appearance. The cause for such change can be attributed to this season being deemed an El Niño year. In June 2023, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center made note of an El Niño pattern on the Pacific. Although the differences in an El Niño are hardly noticeable in the summer, the alternative weather patterns become quite apparent in the winter.

Essentially, this pattern is marked by the sea surface temperature recordings being higher than normal. In America, this largely affects the tradewinds. During this El Niño season, cooler temperatures are brought into the Southern United States, while warmer and drier weather is blown into the Northern states.

So, how does this affect us here in Eastern Oregon? As many La Grande residents may have noticed, we have not seen the usual snowfall in this region. Nearby ski resorts have struggled with openings because of the lack of snow. Our local ski hill, Anthony Lakes, had a delayed opening and a longer span of early season conditions. In short, we have less snow and warmer temperatures.

What can we expect moving forward? Good news! El Niño only occurs every 2-7 years. However, even as we turn this corner into spring, the effects of El Niño may continue to show. Due to the lack of precipitation, Eastern Oregon can expect a drier summer, leading to higher risks for wildfires.

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