El Niño may bring below-average snowpack to the mountains, but a below-average snow season in Colorado is still respectable.
COLORADO, USA – A strong El Niño weather pattern has developed for the coming winter. When sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific are much warmer than normal, it alters the jet stream circulation, resulting in certain weather patterns across the United States.
But Colorado is just outside the reach of the most typical and reliable El Niño conditions. Slightly south of the warmer than average temperature influence and north of the wetter than average precipitation influence.
Although there isn’t actually a reliable connection between El Niño and winter weather in our state, there are certain trends that are just consistent enough to make a winter forecast safe. For example, statewide mountain snowpack tends to be below average.
Of the last four strong El Niño winters, three have been below average; although just below the average of 16.9 inches of snowpack. Snowpack is the measure of how much water is in the snow that is stored in the mountains over the winter.
While this isn’t a great trend for our water supply, it’s not a bad thing either, as overall snow levels were very close to average during strong El Niños.
More specific snowfall data from the last 15 moderate to strong El Niños shows that most of Colorado’s northern and central mountains tend to have below-average snowfall, while the San Juan Mountains typically have above-average snowfall.
However, the term “below average” is often misinterpreted for mountain areas. For example, the below average snow depth at Breckenridge Resort could still be 250 inches. While that’s below the season average of 300 inches, there’s still plenty of snow.
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