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Early indications point to neutral winter for precip Chance of a La Niña pattern could boost snowfal Subscribe via RSS

09/15/2016

Posted: Friday, September 9, 2016 4:35 pm

With the Old Farmer’s Almanac, published late last month, calling for above normal winter temperatures and precipitation a bit below normal in the intermountain region, forecasters say it’s still too early to tell if Telluride and regional snowfall will meet expectations.

Last year’s El Niño pattern, which was supposed to drop significant snowfall on Telluride and the southern Rockies, didn’t quite behave as expected, said both National Weather Service Grand Junction forecaster Dennis Phillips andOpenSnow.com founding meteorologist Joel Gratz. 

“Last winter featured a strong El Niño, but the weather pattern didn’t behave like one we would expect during an El Niño. This season, chances are good that we’ll see neutral conditions (not El Niño or La Niña) or perhaps a weak La Niña,” Gratz told the Daily Planet. “Because last season’s strong signal still led to a different outcome than expected, and because this season’s signal is weak, I don’t have a strong opinion about what we’ll see this winter.”

The Telluride Ski Resort reported an uptick in snowfall during last season’s El Niño pattern — 292 inches of snowfall during the ski season compared to 218 inches in the 2014-15 ski season, according to a Telski spokesperson. 

Phillips said a La Niña pattern, which often follows an El Niño year, typically results in more precipitation in the northern Rockies, as opposed to an El Niño’s southern tendencies. A La Niña can have tangential benefits for southern mountains, though. Weather service models peg the chances of seeing a La Niña season at 55 to 60 percent, Phillips added. 

“Our models early on were saying it was going to be a La Niña, but now it’s wavering, so we’re expecting a neutral pattern,” Phillips said. “Storms are going to hit, and it’ll be hopefully another good winter for everybody.”

La Niña and El Niño patterns typically manifest themselves most strongly in mid winter, Phillips said, “so there’s time for the pattern to change or get stronger. It’s still fairly early.”

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, which has been published since 1792, “snowfall will be above normal in the north and below normal elsewhere, with the snowiest periods in late November, early and mid-December and mid-January.”

Gratz’s OpenSnow site and app predict powder days and other snowfall trends for several ski areas around the West, and he said their predictions 7-10 days out and 2-3 days out are the most accurate, as opposed to several months out. “It’s these predictions that I’ll focus on this winter.” 

“Hope for the best, and ski it when it falls,” Gratz advised. 

Phillips, at the weather service, said Telluride and the southern mountains have seen stronger monsoon impacts than mountains further north during the past month.

More moisture is headed this way, he said, especially during the first part of this week.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see maybe some more snow in the high peaks down there,” he said. “Everyone gets pretty stoked when they see snow.”

Contact Garrett Simon 970-708-1155