Snowfall in southern Colorado could benefit from El Niño
July 10, 2015
Steamboat Springs — The start of ski season is still more than four months away, but forecasters are already looking at how much snow Mother Nature may provide.
Joe Ramey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said the forecast is indicating a weak El Niño for the winter.
"Steamboat doesn't like El Niño," Ramey said. "Cortez, Durango like El Niño."
Ramey said all the climate signals indicate the El Niño will strengthen, but he noted those forecasts are sometimes wrong. Last winter was forecast to be an El Niño, but it ended up being neutral, with neither El Niño or its counterpart, La Niña.
Meteorologist are predicting El Niño conditions based on water temperatures in the Eastern Pacific between the International Dateline and Ecuador. Higher temperatures than normal result in El Niño conditions. Lower temperatures than normal result in La Niña conditions.
Steamboat typically wins out during a La Niña year. During a La Niña year in the season of 2007-08, the Steamboat Ski Area recorded record snowfall of 489 inches.
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Steamboat-based meteorologist Mike Weissbluth, who runs snowalarm.com, said the weather in southern Colorado and other parts of the southwestern United States is strongly correlated to El Niño.
"The reason has to do with a persistent Pacific ridge that forms during El Niño years in the Eastern Pacific," Weissbluth said in an email. "Typically, the ridge becomes strong enough so that the polar jet stream undercuts it, bringing moisture and energy into the southern two thirds of the southern United States. For Northern Colorado, the longitudinal positioning of this ridge is critical. If it is too far east, then the ridge deflects any energy and moisture to our north. If it is just far enough west, then we are in active and moist northwest flow, and if the Pacific ridge sets up too far west, we lose our preferred northwest flow."
There are other complicating factors.
"Complicating the correlations for the Northern Colorado mountains is the fact that if the undercutting flow is far enough north to impact Northern Colorado, then the moist and energetic westerly flow will produce lots of snow for the Interstate 70 areas just to our south, while Steamboat tends to get mostly wind due to its predominantly western aspect," Weissbluth said.