Uncertainty in short-term, long-term forecasts for Steamboat Springs

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The long-term forecast is presenting a bit of a wild card for meteorologists when it comes to predicting what kind of winter is in store for Northwest Colorado.

The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center is now calling for a winter unaffected by either the El Niño or La Niña weather patterns. That differs from earlier forecasts, when weather experts were expecting an El Niño winter, which typically doesn't bring ideal snow conditions to Northwest Colorado. La Niña, which often creates more favorable storm tracks for Steamboat Springs, also won't be a factor.

Instead, with near-normal ocean temperatures, forecasters are predicting what they call ENSO-neutral conditions, and that typically results in varied snowfall in Colorado’s ski towns.

“It’s really hard to predict,” said Dennis Phillips, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

Looking at seven ENSO-neutral winters going back to the season of 1961-62, snowfall in the city of Steamboat Springs was above normal three seasons and below normal four seasons.

The Steamboat Ski Area saw its second best season on record during a neutral winter in 1996-97, when 447.75 inches of snow fell. The ski area also saw its worst season on record during a neutral winter; that was in 1980-81, when just 133.25 inches of snow fell.

The uncertainty is further illustrated by the Climate Prediction Center’s three-month outlook. In terms of precipitation, there is an equal chance of below, average and above-average precipitation for the region. There is a 40 percent chance of above-normal temperatures in Steamboat. The forecast is the same for the one-month outlook.

Going into next week, Phillips said the forecast models have not settled on what to expect.

“It’s a real difficult forecast,” he said.

Overnight temperatures are expected to get down into the 20s, which should allow the ski area to continue making snow in preparation for Scholarship Day on Nov. 21. No major winter storms are on the radar, however.

Phillips said a weak system coming off the west coast could possibly bring snow showers Friday. A second system also favoring northern Colorado will push into the area early next week.

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

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