Clouds and a thin dusting of snow shroud Storm Peak in Steamboat Springs on Wednesday. Weather forecasters aren't sure what effect a La Niña system will have on Steamboat this winter.

Photo by Brian Ray

Clouds and a thin dusting of snow shroud Storm Peak in Steamboat Springs on Wednesday. Weather forecasters aren't sure what effect a La Niña system will have on Steamboat this winter.

Weather service goes back and forth on La Niña impact

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— A meteorologist with the National Weather Service said this week that Northwest Colorado's best chance for above-average precipitation will be in the early to mid-winter. By late winter, Jim Pringle said, the zone favoring increased snow will have shifted north away from Northwest Colorado and the Uintah Mountains of Northeast Utah.

Pringle, based in the National Weather Service's Grand Junction Forecast Office, said the Western U.S., including Northwest Colorado, remains under the influence of a moderate La Niña winter episode. And while slight shifts in the jet stream could alter precipitation projections, above-normal precipitation is "slightly favored" over either average or below-normal precipitation in this region.

"There are no strong trends indicated for Western Colorado and Eastern Utah," Pringle said. "However, for the early winter to mid-winter period, above-normal precipitation is slightly favored in extreme Northeast Utah and the extreme northwest corner of Colorado (northwest Moffat County)."

Pringle rated the likelihood of above-average precipitation in those areas at 33 to 35 percent.

For residents of the Yampa Valley, having endured a warm, dry November, that outlook offers some degree of optimism.

Longtime weather observer Art Judson said he had observed just a trace of snowfall and 0.15 inches of November rain prior to the snowstorm that arrived in Steamboat Springs on Tuesday night.

Judson's weather station is located between downtown and the ski mountain.

He said the warmest day of November was 65 degrees on Nov. 20. The record high for the month of November was 72 degrees, recorded on Nov. 3, 1909.

Pringle said forecasting temperatures in a La Niña cycle is more of a sure thing than forecasting moisture.

"The odds strongly favor above-normal temperatures this winter close to the Wyoming border," and those odds only increase as one travels toward Southwest Colorado.

The most recent moderate La Niña winter occurred in 1999-2000, Pringle said. That winter produced 90 to 100 percent of normal snowfall in Colorado's northern mountains, he said.

However, snow records maintained by the Steamboat Ski Area reflect an above-average snow winter that season. Steamboat's all-time mid-mountain snowfall average is 308.6 inches. The winter of 1999-2000 saw 369 inches of snowfall at Thunderhead thanks in part to a January that produced 119 inches.

- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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