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Environment

Colorado's Snow Outlook? For Now, Normal With A Tip Of The Hat To Dry

snowpack.jpg
USDA NRCS
U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Services measure Colorado snowpack in January 2014.

It's been a dry October, but the outlook for Colorado winter precipitation mostly sits right around normal. That's the projection made by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist Klaus Wolter for the 2014-2015 winter season.

"Near-normal seems to be the keyword," he said. "With maybe a small tip of the hat towards a bit drier than normal."

Wolter looked at model projections and past years with similar conditions in coming up with the outlook. One of the items under consideration was El Niño and its possible effect on Colorado winter weather.

Forecasters have been anticipating an El Niño, a climate phenomenon that occurs when temperatures in part of the tropical Pacific Ocean are warmer than normal, for months.

Wolter said that although the El Niño is not officially confirmed, he considers a mild El Niño to be in effect already. In past years with mild El Niño's, snowpack for the year in Colorado has been right around average, sometimes with a dry spell in the middle of winter, around February.

National-level forecasts for Colorado's winter listed an equal chance of heavier or lighter precipitation through January, and a higher than average likelihood of wet conditions later in the winter, from January through March.

Since October has been so dry, Wolter cautioned that if November did not turn wet, he might have to change his forecast.

"If November comes in dry too, I may have to revise everything I am saying here because we are obviously running out of time."

The researcher did note that past wet years with weak El Niño conditions  – specifically 1979 and 1992 – also started out with warm, dry Octobers.

"Don't despair -- just because it is dry now it doesn't mean it has to stay that way," he said.

DroughtChange.jpg
Credit National Integrated Drought Information System
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National Integrated Drought Information System
Most of Colorado has improved its drought outlook this year, while large parts of California and the Southwest have not.

Currently, from a drought perspective, much of Colorado has improved throughout the summer, although the rest of the Southwest does not look as good. California is expecting a significant storm in the next week, which may help its dry conditions, said Wolter.

The researcher also said it was unlikely the Northeast and upper Midwest would experience as cold a winter as the prior year, when the polar vortex and record cold sent energy prices skyrocketing.

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