What does La Nina have planned for this winter?
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – You can’t predict the weather, but it doesn’t mean that people aren’t going to try.
Short-range weather predictions can even be flawed, let alone long-term predictions about such variable conditions as temperature and precipitation.
The La Nina weather pattern this coming winter means one thing for sure – there will be unusually cold ocean temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean near the Equator. The conditions tend to bring wetter than normal conditions across the Pacific Northwest and dryer and warmer than normal conditions across much of the southern tier of the United States.
Colorado sits right in the middle, meaning things here could go either way.
The last La Nina winter was 2007-08 and brought tons of snow to the valley. Powder days became the norm, but you never would have known it based on some early winter weather predictions that year, though.
Both the Farmer’s Almanac and Klaus Wolter, a Boulder-based climatologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who studies snow in Colorado, didn’t hold out much hope that white stuff would fall from the sky in large amounts that winter. Wolter, a skier, even chose not to buy a season ski pass that year. He didn’t even buy a 4-day pass.
Wolter called 2007-08 the winter of “low expectations,” but said he hoped he would be wrong. He was.
Wolter said this coming winter is a “big La Nina year,” but that doesn’t necessarily mean previous La Nina patterns in the area mean anything about what’s to come.
“2007-08 was a La Nina that was very beneficial for us, and unfortunately that doesn’t mean it will happen again,” Wolter said.
Wolter said he was uncomfortable talking about more specific long-range forecasts with the media because he hadn’t yet shared them with a group of regional water managers.
Ethan Greene, director of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, said his organization puts out forecasts for up to 36 hours in advance, but nothing farther in advance than that.
“That’s where we can feel like we have some skill,” Greene said. “We look at those long-range forecasts, probably for the same reasons we all do – it’s fun and it’s interesting and it gives you something to talk about while you’re drinking coffee in the morning.”
With La Nina and El Nino weather patterns, Greene said Colorado is kind of in “no man’s land,” meaning it falls in an area where the weather phenomena don’t necessarily affect our region one way or another.
Colorado does have regions that are included in the La Nina and El Nino forecasts for above average or below average precipitation, but the Vail area sits right in the middle of where the certainty typically exists.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s long-range weather prediction for Western Colorado for the upcoming December, January and February months shows a 7.5 percent probability for record high amounts of snowfall, a 30.4 percent chance for above normal snowfall, a 36.1 percent chance for near normal snowfall, a 33.4 percent chance for below normal snowfall and an 8.7 percent chance for record lows of snowfall.
Greene said looking at data like that and interpreting it “kind of depends on if you’re a glass half-full or glass half-empty person.”
“A good way to look at it is that the last La Nina was great,” he said. “Hopefully we can find something to be excited about.”
The Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy is doing just that – getting excited about snow. Head of School Geoff Grimmer said he’s planning a Ute Indian snow dance with students, the public and members of a nearby Ute Indian Tribe in early December.
“It’s to celebrate snow and to respect the Mother Earth,” Grimmer said. “It’s about a respect for the environment and two cultures and communities coming together.”
Whether the snow dance will rile any snow gods is a mystery, but the right intentions are there.
Some people look to things as simple as signs from wildlife. Local Bernie Boettcher said the last time Vail and Beaver Creek had a big snow year he saw hundreds of woolly bear caterpillars on the roads and trails before the season.
“Ninety-five percent of them were headed north – go figure,” Boettcher said.
Eagle business owner and valley local Matt Jones said, based on previous La Nina years, that he expects a warm, dry end of October and November and maybe even a delay to the mountains opening because of warm temperatures.
“December can typically be a crapshoot for snow in La Nina years, but January and February have deep [powder] written all over them,” Jones said.
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