Signs point to decent winter snows
SUMMIT COUNTY – The string of early season storms that has dropped record and near-record snows in the local mountains could be consistent with a developing and strengthening El Nino weather pattern, said Boulder-based climate researcher Klaus Wolter.Although he hasn’t issued his official winter forecast, Wolter says he expects a wetter-than-average late winter and spring.
Juicy storms rolling in from Southern California can be traced to El Nino, part of a periodic shift in ocean surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific. Where exactly those storms go once they reach the central and southern Rockies is still hard to predict. In some years, El Nino has a potent effect in the Southwest, including Colorado’s San Juan Mountains.”It’s not a straightforward thing in the fall,” Wolter said. “Typically, you don’t get those classic El Nino storms that barrel in from Southern California. But rather you get these storms that interact with a lot of subtropical moisture that comes in, from eastern Pacific storms … which tend to get enhanced in El Nino conditions. We’ve already had our share of that this year,” he said.At his mountain home west of Boulder, Wolter said the wettest Octobers that he has recorded have all been during El Ninos – in 1997, 2002 and this year. Wolter has been tracking weather at that location for 17 years. In general, October is the driest month of the year in Colorado.Local National Weather Service observer Rick Bly said he’s found a statistical correlation between October precipitation and winter trends, based on records going back more than 100 years. When October brings above-average moisture, there’s a 70 percent chance the rest of the winter will also be wetter than average, Bly said.
Warmer temperatures in the eastern Pacific tend to make storms off the coast of Mexico a bit more active, weather watchers say. That region has experienced a fairly busy hurricane season, and when the jet stream interacts with that moisture, it can bring significant storms to the Colorado mountains, Wolter said.Wolter said he anticipates a dry spell in January, when things might not look so good, but predicted that a wet spring pattern could kick in early.
For the latest updates on El Nino, visit http://www.elnino.noaa.govVail Daily, Vail, Colorado