La Niña likely to return to Steamboat Springs | SteamboatToday.com

La Niña likely to return to Steamboat Springs

Expert: Climate event typically means above-average snowfall for Steamboat

The Steamboat Ski Area’s official snow depth measuring stake on Storm Peak shows a record 138 inches on April 4. The 2010-11 ski season was a La Niña year, and climate forecasters are expecting more of the same for this winter.





The Steamboat Ski Area's official snow depth measuring stake on Storm Peak shows a record 138 inches on April 4. The 2010-11 ski season was a La Niña year, and climate forecasters are expecting more of the same for this winter.

By the numbers

Steamboat's deepest winters:

  1. 2007-08: 489 inches*

  2. 1996-97: 448 inches

  3. 1983-84: 448 inches

  4. 1995-96: 441 inches*

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  5. 2010-11: 433 inches*

  6. 2005-06: 432 inches

  7. 1992-93: 416 inches

  8. 2008-09: 405 inches

*La Niña winters

Source: Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.

— Knock on wood, but one of the major tools used to help predict the abundance of snow in Steamboat Springs boasts some good news for powder hounds.

With 70 to 80 percent certainty, La Niña is expected to return, according to Joe Ramey, a meteorologist and climate expert at the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

"It's not a given that it will be La Niña, but it's about as strong as we can get," he said. "We had La Niña last year, and it turned out to be a great year for Steamboat."

La Niña occurs when there is cool water in the central and east-central Pacific near the equator. Ramey said it typically results in average to above-average snowfall for Steamboat and less moisture at resorts to the south.

By contrast, El Niño is the result of warmer ocean water, typically resulting in lower moisture levels.

The past two La Niña events resulted in 400-plus inches of snow at Steamboat Ski Area. The ski area broke its snowfall record during La Niña in the 2007-08 ski season with 489 inches of snow. Last season, La Niña occurred again, and the season closed with a 433-inch total.

Ramey said that he is studying back-to-back La Niña events and the effect on snowfall. He said consecutive events have happened seven times since 1950 and that it appears the consecutive event has not typically been as strong. This could result in a near or slightly-above normal snowfall. Ramey's observations are based on in-town snow totals, and historic snow totals at the ski area both support and contradict the theory.

Historic snow totals at the ski area seem to support the theory that an El Niño event can lead to a drier ski season in Steamboat. During the 2009-10 season, 261 inches fell during an El Niño event. In 2004-05, there was 274 inches, 344 inches in 2002-03, 291 inches in 1997-98, 255 inches in 1994-95 and 172 inches in 1991-92. The all-time historical average snowfall at the ski area is 308 inches. The average from the past 20 years is 335 inches.

Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. spokeswoman Loryn Kasten said that there have been seasons where snowfall was abundant without La Niña but that ski area officials are happy to hear the forecast.

"When people start buzzing about a La Niña year, especially this early, we get caught up in the excitement," Kasten said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

By the numbers

Steamboat’s deepest winters:

  1. 2007-08: 489 inches*

  2. 1996-97: 448 inches

  3. 1983-84: 448 inches

  4. 1995-96: 441 inches*

  5. 2010-11: 433 inches*

  6. 2005-06: 432 inches

  7. 1992-93: 416 inches

  8. 2008-09: 405 inches

*La Niña winters

Source: Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp.

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