Whiteroom Blog

History of La Niña & El Niño Weather Patterns and Snowfall in Hokkaido, Japan

2023/24 Update:

It looks like we’re headed for an El Niño winter this year in Japan, after a 3 winter run of La Niña patterns. What does this mean for your holiday to Japan though?

The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) stated on Nov 10th:

El Niño conditions have persisted in the equatorial Pacific since boreal spring this year. They are likely (80%) to continue through boreal spring next year.

While the current long range forecast is showing some above average temperatures from Dec-Feb this winter, we’re waiting on updated data from the JMA in early December before we dig deeper. As you can see from the charts below, it’s not quite as cut and dry as good vs bad when we look at La Niña and El Niño.

In the meantime, the 3 day forecast is your friend!

2022/23 Article:

With much talk of a potential upcoming La Niña winter being forecasted, we thought we’d dive a little deeper and see how previous La Niña & El Niño patterns have affected Hokkaido over the last decade.

As you can see from the data comparison below, we have seen good snowfall totals in La Niña pattern winters, but there are definitely more complexities at play, with big totals also seen in both neutral and El Niño patterns over this time.

Snow Totals/Weather Patterns Niseko and Furano 2012-2022
(Resort base area – upper mountain can receive up to x3 these totals)

Snowfall data: snowjapan / Weather data JMA

Currently the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) has predicted a 90% likelihood that La Niña conditions will continue through the coming winter, dropping to 60% in spring. For those of us planning to be in Hokkaido and Northern Japan, this means the potential for above-average snow totals.

Snowfall Forecast for December to February. Colouring indicates a 40% probability or more of above-normal values for the west coast + central regions of Hokkaido and Tohoku – JMA

As outlined by Ronan Maguire, Whiteroom Lead Avalanche Forecaster:

The reason for this is that a La Niña pattern results in cooler-than-average surface temperatures across the equatorial central Pacific Ocean and a rising of the ocean temperatures adjacent to Southeast Asia, which is generating moist air.

All of this moist air tends to create blocking high-pressure systems on the East coast of the Indochina peninsula – Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, etc. These highs then push the cold prevailing westerly winds further North which means we have warm moist air meeting a cold air flow from Siberia which then sees those moisture-rich clouds dump a lot of snow across Hokkaido and the Tohoku region.

During cold La Niña episodes the normal patterns of tropical precipitation and atmospheric circulation become disrupted. meted.ucar.edu

These patterns also go hand in hand with colder temperatures and less sunny days in the region this winter, but the skiing and riding should be epic! 

Of course these are long-range forecasts and models, and not to be taken as gospel, but things are looking positive at this stage. In either case, an average winter in Japan is nothing short of amazing, which is why we keep going back!

For all of you fellow weather nerds out there, the following chart may also pique your interest; all recorded historical El Niño and La Niña Events, defined by Sea Surface Temperature (SST) deviation, in Japan since 1950.

Red shaded areas – El Niño, blue – La Niña. Thin lines indicates monthly mean values, and smoothed thick curves represents five month running mean values. JMA data.

“The definition of El Niño(La Niña) is such that the 5-month running mean Sea Surface Temperature (SST) deviation for NINO.3(5°S-5°N,150°W-90°W) continues 0.5°C(-0.5°C) or higher (lower) for 6 consecutive months or longer.”

One thing is certain, after a such a long wait to get back, and less than 30 days until resorts begin to open across Hokkaido and Tohoku we are excited to welcome you all back to Japan soon!

We still have places available on our early and late season guided powder tours, and a few spots scatterd through the peak winter period.

Get in touch if you’d like to join us for the Return to Japow!

Central Hokkaido has some of Japan’s most easily accessible backcountry – it’s the perfect place for those relatively new to touring or those who have done it before but don’t wish to hike all day every day. Endless fresh lines in the backcountry await!

Ski from the mountains of Central Hokkaido down to the coast of Otaru, and gain more confidence in all types of powder-filled terrain with hints and tips from your Guide/Coach.

Designed for advanced to expert skiers and snowboarders who are keen to use the lifts to access the backcountry of all the best ski areas in Hokkaido. With only 1 rest day you will be on the move, following the storms on the hunt for powder from Asahikawa in the north down to Niseko in the south and everything in between!

We’ve been running this tour for 14 years now and each year it gets better with new terrain to explore. You’ll get to ski/snowboard the in-bounds powder and backcountry of Furano, Asahidake, Kamui, Tomamu, Sahoro and Pippu – by far our most popular tour!

Join us on this epic powder hunting road trip! Starting in Otaru you will wind your way along the coast then inland to Rusutsu, Niseko, Moiwa and down to Hakodate. This area of Hokkaido gets the most snow of anywhere on the island and you’ll be storm chasing the whole time so pack your snorkel!

Come and join us for an adventure to remember!

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