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Winter (And La Nina) Is Coming... For Colorado's Mountains

Jackie Fortier
The NOAA building in Boulder, Colo.

Predicting the weather for Colorado is a challenge - but doing it for entire seasons is even harder. According to University of Colorado, Boulder climatologist Klaus Wolter, we are “flirting” with a La Niña.

Scientists use a buoy system in the tropical Pacific Ocean, right around the equator, to relay various real-time weather data, including water temperature. When the ocean is cooler than normal, it’s known as a La Niña.

During a La Niña, normal Pacific thunderstorm activity shifts westward toward Indonesia, affecting the jet stream over North America. For Colorado, it could mean a snowy winter in the mountains, and a warmer winter on the Front Range.

“Even though we are borderline La Niña, the footprint of what has happened so far is consistent with La Niña,” said Wolter. “The fact that it has been wet in the Pacific Northwest and dry from Colorado southward this time of the year [fall] is consistent with La Niña footprint.”

That’s good news for winter weather enthusiasts. The central and northern mountain ranges stand to see more snow from the La Niña. 

“I would say from the San Juan’s northward. The only mountain range in Colorado that tends to underperform in the La Niña is the southern San Juans... will probably be in the rain shadow,” said Wolter.

Credit NOAA
The three month temperature outlook shows Colorado may experience above normal temperatures into January, 2017.

Colorado will be wrapping up the year with above normal temperatures, and more snow in the mountains, what Wolter calls “the best of both worlds.”

It’s too early to predict if it will be a banner year for snowfall overall, though Wolter said we’re likely to have above normal amounts from mid-November through February 2017.

He cautions not to wait until spring break to go skiing. 

“If the La Niña-like situation lingers into spring [2017], March especially tends to be drier.”

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