Vail’s dry November isn’t an indicator of the coming winter
State climatologist says there aren’t many signals indicating an above-average snow year is on the way
EAGLE COUNTY — The arctic blast we saw at the end of October was just a tease. After a warmish, dry start to November, there isn’t much relief in sight.
The Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service is predicting a storm system for the middle of the coming week, starting Nov. 20 or so.
Meteorologists are hesitant to forecast more than a week or so in advance, but the prospects are uncertain at best for more moisture in the days just following that mid-week shot of snow.
A Nov. 15 weather summary from OpenSnow.com meteorologist Sam Collentine indicates that a storm pattern is likely to develop during Thanksgiving week over the western United States.
But when that system might hit, and where, is still mostly a matter of conjecture.
At the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, forecaster Chris Cuomo said the looming mid-week storm will mostly deliver snow at higher elevations.
After that, though, Cuomo said high pressure will re-establish over the northwestern U.S., and high pressure usually means dry conditions in the Colorado high country. Conversely, low atmospheric pressure is more likely to bring precipitation.
Cuomo said there’s a persistent low-pressure area off Baja, California. That low pressure and the high pressure farther north is bogging down systems coming in from the Pacific Ocean.
That’s what has produced the dry early November.
It’s still early
At the Colorado Climate Center in Fort Collins, State Climatologist Russ Schumacher said a dry November isn’t necessarily an indicator of the winter to come.
“Any couple of weeks in the fall or winter aren’t going to tell us a lot,” Schumacher said.
“We’ve still got a long way to go — it’s still only November,” he added. But, he added, there aren’t many signals indicating an above-average snow year is on the way.
The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center outlook for the three-month period beginning Nov. 1 shows a chance of above-average temperatures and a lower chance of above-average precipitation for the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
On the other hand, predicting trends for the coming months has been made more difficult because of current conditions in the Pacific about 1,000 miles west of Ecuador.
That area is responsible for generating either “El Nino” — warmer than average — or “La Nina” — cooler than average — water temperatures. That phenomenon, called the “El Nino Southern Oscillation,” or ENSO, can help predict where storm systems tend to track. In El Nino years, storms that hit Colorado tend to track toward the south. In La Nina years, systems will often come into Colorado from the northwest.
Nothing to bet on
This season, neither phenomenon is in place, something called an ENSO neutral condition. That’s actually the condition for most years.
Those conditions “don’t give us anything to place a bet on,” Cuomo said. “There’s no way to shade the forecast.”
In those years, forecasting boils down to what’s observed in the climate and the law of averages, Cuomo said.
In an email, Collentine said El Nino patterns aren’t particularly helpful unless they’re strong ones.
“Even though strong ENSO conditions can tilt the odds in favor of a certain storm track, we know that skiing quality improves and degrades with storm cycles that last a few days to a week,” Collentine wrote.
With all that in mind, it’s likely that local resorts will still look to the skies — and expanded snowmaking — to determine conditions and available terrain.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at email@example.com or 970-748-2930.
Snowplowing efforts are a prime example of how sometimes the very people who need a service hinder its delivery.