El Niño may mean snow | SteamboatToday.com

El Niño may mean snow

Above-average temps, precipitation in long-range forecast

— Jim Pringle wouldn’t hesitate booking a ski trip to Colorado based on the long-range forecast the National Weather Service issued last week.

Pringle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said the forecast calls for above average temperatures and above average precipitation in the southwest corner of Colorado and the country through spring 2007.

The long-term forecast is based on many factors, including the revised assessment of the El Niño Southern Oscillation.

A weak El Niño pattern had been forecast for the remainder of this year and into 2007. A moderate El Niño episode is now expected.

“It looks very encouraging that we will get snow at the higher elevations,” Pringle said. “At the lower elevations, we may see rain where we would typically see snow.”

The above-average temperatures could lead to more wet snow rather than the fluffy powder Steamboat residents are used to, but Southern Colorado is in dire need of any form of precipitation.

“There is no indication of below-normal precipitation expectations anywhere in Colorado,” Pringle said. “To me, that is a very encouraging sign.”

Colorado was in a neutral pattern last year, which translated to near-record snowfall totals for the Steamboat Ski Area.

El Niño patterns are different and occur as a result of warmer-than-typical sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

Several forecasters at the National Weather Service in Grand Junction conducted a local study on snowfall during various El Niño patterns between 1971 and 2000.

During moderate to strong patterns in the western Colorado and eastern Utah mountains, forecasters measured above-average precipitation in the fall. It started to drop toward the end of November.

Precipitation numbers were near average or slightly below average through January before picking up again in late January or early February. Then, precipitation totals were above average through April.

Steamboat’s ski season lasts from late November through mid-April.

“That might be what we can expect – near- to above-normal precipitation though the peaks may occur early in the season and late winter or early spring,” Pringle said. “It just depends.”

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