What does a ‘triple-dip’ La Nina mean for Steamboat’s snow?
Meteorologists are expecting to see a rare climate trend this winter called a “triple-dip” La Nina, which has some optimistic about the upcoming ski season.
On Wednesday, Aug. 31, the World Meteorological Organization announced the La Nina pattern — a large-scale cooling in Pacific Ocean surface temperatures that have weather impacts across the globe — would likely continue for a third year, hence “triple-dip.”
Megan Stackhouse, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said the phenomenon has only been seen three times since the 1950s. It could also mean more powder too, as a La Nina winter can come with more moisture, she added.
“We tend to see wetter than normal conditions across the northern mountains, whereas portions of the southern mountains like the San Juan (Mountains), they kind of get blocked from the systems,” Stackhouse said.
While La Nina winters tend to be wetter, that isn’t always what happens. Last year was also a La Nina winter, and Steamboat fell quite a bit short of its average for snowfall.
Local meteorologist Mike Weissbluth said in his experience, north central Colorado and Steamboat aren’t that well correlated with the La Nina-El Nino pattern, meaning either seems to have little effect on the snow coming to the Yampa Valley.
“Areas south of (Interstate 70) are better correlated with that, but the fact is we just are not,” said Weissbluth, who writes local weather updates at SnowAlarm.com. “We could have good years or bad years with either of those.”
Like last year, Weissbluth said he is currently seeing lots of cold air in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. That enhanced the summer monsoon season, but it is still too early to have a firm grip on what this winter will look like.
“I’m as optimistic as anyone, but I cannot put any sort of forecast for snowfall,” he said. “It’s difficult enough to forecast weather a week in advance, much less months in advance.”
Seasonal outlooks from the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center show the ski season could start warmer and drier than normal, based on the October, November and December outlook.
That shifts some by January, with Northwest Colorado likely having equal chances for above or below average temperatures and precipitation. Southwest Colorado is looking at below average precipitation, which would be typical in a La Nina winter, Stackhouse said.
Sam Collentine, a meteorologist at OpenSnow.com, wrote in a post last month that surface sea temperatures are low enough that it seems this La Nina event would be more significant than those seen in years past.
Criteria for La Nina would be ocean surface temperatures dropping 0.5 degrees Celsius compared to the prior month, Collentine wrote. In late August, it was down 1.2 degrees Celsius, the coldest anomaly in August since 2010.
The 2010-11 winter turned out to be a pretty good one, with Steamboat Ski Resort seeing 508 inches, which is about 35% above average, according to data from Bestsnow.net. That year saw 111 inches of snow in November.
“The effects of La Nina appear to show much of the Western U.S. receiving average to above-average snowfall during these significant events,” Collentine said. “Though, the pattern doesn’t hold 100% of the time.”
The pattern has broad impacts across the world. La Nina is currently responsible for drought in the horn of Africa and South America and above average rainfall in South East Asia and Australia.
“All naturally occurring climate events now take place in the context of human-induced climate change,” wrote the World Meteorological Organization in a statement. “It is exceptional to have three consecutive years with a La Nina event.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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