Will La Nina mean more snow?
Glenwood Springs Correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS ” A Denver-based meteorologist’s winter snow forecast could come as good news for skiers in Steamboat Springs, and bad news for those in Durango.
Bill Badini’s prediction also offers a mixed bag for the Colorado River District, which is based in Glenwood Springs and deals with water-supply issues throughout the river basin.
“La Nina is coming up, and it’s coming up very fast” Badini told the district board at its meeting Tuesday at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood.
La Nina is the counterpart of the better-known El Nino, a long-term weather pattern driven by higher-than-average sea surface temperatures off South America in the Pacific Ocean. El Nino tends to usher snowstorms into southwest Colorado.
Badini, who works for the firm HDR, said that this year, those sea-surface temperatures are lower than average. That tends to produce La Nina storms that bear down from the Northwest and result in above-average snow in northwest Colorado, and below-average amounts in the southwest part of the state.
The arrival of La Nina also portends slightly below-average precipitation on the Front Range on the other side of the Continental Divide, Badini said. That, he told the river district board, could influence “how much peeking over the divide there will be at how much water you’ve got over there.”
Front Range interest in Western Slope water supplies stems from the fact that Front Range communities hold much of the state’s population, and rely heavily on Western Slope snowpack to meet their needs.
A La Nina year should mean a boost in water supplies and storage in the Colorado River Basin above Glenwood Springs. While that makes water management easier in that part of the state, La Nina could complicate matters when it comes to Colorado River flows farther downstream.
Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District, pointed out that southwest Colorado is a considerable contributor of water to the river.
Low snowfall there this winter could add to Colorado’s challenges in meeting compact obligations with other states in the Southwest that have a legal right to some Colorado River water.
However, Badini said any problems caused by La Nina should be limited if it is short-lasting. Typically, when La Nina winters are followed by El Ninos over coming months, they are accompanied by a lot of moisture.
“Once spring comes rolling around you actually begin to play catch-up,” he said.
La Ninas and El Ninos aren’t absolute guarantees of Colorado weather. Kuhn said last year was “one of those two out of 10 years” when southwest Colorado was dry during an El Nino. He compared it to rolling dice.
“The chances of getting a seven are better than getting a two. But that doesn’t mean you can’t get a two,” he said.
Still, Badini said there tends to be a floor on how little precipitation northwest Colorado could get during a La Nina winter. Usually it will receive at least 90 percent of average precipitation. It’s “very rare” that precipitation would drop below 80 percent, he said.
“The threat of a very dry year is limited,” he said.