El Nino pattern portends drier next two months
While El Niño has lived up to its reputation and brought plenty of storms leading into winter, meteorologists expect January and February to be drier for the Western Slope.
When the waters in equatorial eastern Pacific Ocean are warmer or cooler than normal for a significant amount of time, it creates predictable results for North America, said Joe Ramey, National Weather Service meteorologist in Grand Junction.
When those waters are warmer than normal, North America gets an El Niño season, and when they’re cooler, it gets a La Niña season.
So far this El Niño hasn’t behaved exactly as expected, he said. Whereas El Niño storms typically blow straight west to east, coming off the deserts of the American West, the storm systems this year have come more from the northwest, blowing in from the Alaskan gulf.
Normally the storms coming from the northwest would create some good precipitation for northwestern Colorado, but they’ve largely split into two portions: one tracking into the northeastern plains and the other into southwestern Colorado.
Coming into January, Ramey said the systems seem to be straightening out into the more typical west-to-east pattern.
From the fall and into this winter, the El Niño season has been one of the strongest on record, said Ramey. And now it’s reaching its peak.
In western Colorado, El Niño seasons tend to bring a wet fall and drier winter starting in January. Heavier precipitation tends to come back around in spring.
Forecasting models are showing that weather systems are following that trend, said Ramey.
Also, El Niño seasons bring more precipitation for the southern parts of western Colorado, leaving the northwest part of the state drier.
And though the NWS can’t yet say what next summer will bring, Ramey said he could more easily predict next winter. The weather systems following an El Niño season are typically La Niñas, he said.
“El Niño and La Niña are opposite sides of the same coin.”
Whereas El Niños tend to bring moisture to the southern parts of western Colorado, La Niños favor the north. And likewise, whereas mid-winter is typically dry during El Niño, it sees more precipitation during La Nina.
Those areas getting cheated on precipitation during El Niño will get it made up for next year, said Ramey.
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