Aspen micro-forecaster predicts normal to slightly above snowfall this winter

Meteorologist Cory Gates giving his Aspen weather outlook for this winter at the weather party held at the Limelight Hotel Thursday evening.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

Micro-forecasting firm Aspen is predicting normal to slightly above normal snow at the Roaring Fork Valley’s ski areas this winter.

Meteorologist Cory Gates said models are showing conditions shaping up as a “weak La Nina” winter, where cold Pacific Ocean temperatures at the equator influence the storm track.

“Weak to moderate La Nina years are OK for us,” Gates told a crowd at the Limelight for’s annual winter outlook party.

From October into early May, he forecasted 340 inches of snow for Snowmass Ski Area, 325 inches for Aspen Highlands and 307 inches for Aspen Mountain.

“We’re going to have 10-day intervals that aren’t worth a damn. Just remember, you’re going to get 18 good weeks.” — Cory Gates

Those totals are below last winter’s snowfall, where Snowmass logged 369 inches, Highlands tallied 368 inches and Aspen Mountain accumulated 337 inches.

Nevertheless, skiers and snowboarders will enjoy a “solid winter,” Gates said. “This is a normal to a fraction above.”

He said it makes “no scientific sense” to predict a snowier winter.

To make things interesting, Gates predicted that during the heart of the winter, the 26 weeks from roughly November through April, Aspen’s ski areas will reap 18 “good weeks” of snowfall and eight weeks of dry spells. The dry spells tend to come in increments of 10 to 14 days.

“We’re going to have 10-day intervals that aren’t worth a damn,” he said. “Just remember, you’re going to get 18 good weeks.”

That means 70 percent of the time, conditions will be favorable, though that might not be good enough for Aspenites, he quipped.

As far as temperatures, Gates predicted it will be cooler than average, but warmer than it has been in recent winters. Temperatures will be normal to 0.5 degrees above normal, he said.

“This will feel colder because of recent winters being warm,” Gates said. “We’re going to have more days below zero” than last winter.

Gates said he came to his conclusions for Aspen after looking at extensive ocean temperature data over the past few decades. It’s a “perfect pick” to match this winter to 1985-86 based on prior weather patterns, he said.

Gates said he nailed snowfall amounts for last winter, for October into early May. While he nailed the overall amounts, it didn’t fall as expected. He predicted a huge start to the season last winter. Instead, dry conditions stretched into December. He accurately predicted that Aspen would get “creamed” in January last season.

The National Weather Service expects an ENSO neutral winter this year, with neither El Nino nor La Nina dominating. That makes the storm track unpredictable, according to the weather service.

Chris Tomer of foresees neutral conditions in ocean temperature from September into early December, then a “minor La Nina” for the remainder of the winter. As a result, like Gates, he sees normal snowfall for Aspen.

The biggest change for from last year to this year came on the climate change front. Last year, Gates discounted global warming, saying the planet is actually cooling. This year, his business partner, Ryan Boudreau, presented pro skier Chris Davenport with a check for $500 for Protect Our Winters, a group headed by professional athletes lobbying for policy changes to combat climate change.

“Climate change is a real thing,” Boudreau said. “We have to live on this earth. We might as well take care of it.”


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