Snowpack | KUNC


The Conditions Are Ripe For A 'Super' El Niño

Jul 13, 2015

The United States is currently experiencing the third strongest summertime El Niño since 1950, and it could strengthen.

“Basically since mid-May things have coalesced into a very strong El Niño and I would say we are on the verge of calling it a super El Niño. That may take a few months to be certain, but that’s where it’s drifting,” said University of Colorado-Boulder researcher Klaus Wolter.

“Certainly this is the biggest event since 1997/1998 which was the last super El Niño.”

Karl Wetlaufer / Colorado Snow Survey

Colorado's snowpack continues to be the bright spot in the western U.S., thanks to historic precipitation in May. The South Platte River basin, which provides water for much of the Front Range and plains has the highest snowpack in the state.

A high June snowpack does have some dangers though.

"Now's the time of year, in combination with still having snow high up in the mountains with the increasing temperatures and the increased probability of having rain on snow events, that's when really large, fast flood events can potentially happen," said Karl Wetlaufer, a hydrologist with the Colorado Snow Survey Program.

Rocky Mountain Coordination Center

Recent rains have helped to dampen the wildfire forecast for the Rocky Mountains. Storms in April and May brought much-needed moisture to the region after a warm, dry March.

The May 11, 2015 seasonal wildfire outlook released by the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center says most of the region has an average fire potential. A big swath of Colorado's Front Range, extending east into Nebraska and Kansas, comes in a bit below average. 

NoCO Snowpack Boosted While Southern Colorado Still Dry

Apr 21, 2015
ForestWander / Wikimedia Commons

Recent snowstorms have pushed Colorado’s snowpack up to 62 percent of normal. But according to experts, those storms didn’t provide relief to the driest areas in the southern half of the state.

U.S. Forest Service

The Rocky Mountain region fire outlook [.pdf] is not as bad as that of 2012 – at least not yet. For those with short memories, that was the year of the High Park and Waldo Canyon fires, some of the largest and most destructive in Colorado history. Last year, 2014, was relatively calm, following a large snowpack and a cool, wet early summer.

"Right now we're kind of sitting in between those years, a 2012 and a 2014," said Tim Mathewson, a fire meteorologist with the federal Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center, based outside Denver. "We're definitely not as wet as we were last year at this time, but we're not quite as dry as we were in 2012, our snowpack is a little bit better."

National Drought Mitigation Center

All the dry and warm weather Coloradans have been enjoying doesn’t come without a cost. The most recent U.S. Drought Monitor shows Colorado’s Western Slope has slipped a bit further into drought conditions, now more than half the state’s land area is classified as being in moderate drought.

Colorado Climate Center

This winter in Colorado, we're not just getting record-breaking warm days. We're getting record-breaking weeks.

According to an analysis from the Colorado state climatologist's office, a two-week period from late January to early February has smashed through many long-term records.

Daily temperature records get broken all the time, but a longer period of record-breaking warmth is more unprecedented. Four Colorado towns with long-term weather stations – Akron, Dillon, Fort Collins, and Steamboat Springs – have experienced their warmest two-week period on record for the period from Jan. 25 through Feb. 8.

Fort Collins temperature records go back 127 years. For Denver, whose temperature records go back 144 years, the average temperatures for those two weeks are the fourth warmest on record.

Natural Resources Conservation Service

Yes, it has been crazy warm. For 2015, Denver broke high temperature records on February 6, 7, and 8, each day above 70 degrees. Fort Collins also had a record high Saturday at 71.

While a winter warm-up is not out of the ordinary, what is unusual is just how warm it's been getting – and how frequently it's been getting warm, said Nolan Doesken, the Colorado state climatologist.

"This business of being in the 60s and even in the 70s for multiple days in a multiple week period, that starts to push the envelope a little bit."

giac o))) / CC BY 2.0

It's midway through the winter, and Colorado's snowpack is in a Goldilocks situation. Not too much, not too little.

According to state climatologist Nolan Doesken, most basins are sitting right around average.

"No part of the state is desperately below average, no part of the state is above average," he said. The Colorado River headwaters are at about average. "Those with the lowest snowpack are the Yampa-White, in the northwestern part of the state, and the Rio Grande, in the south."


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."