YOUR AD HERE » forecasts snowfall at normal or up to 20% above for Aspen ski areas

Snow settles over Aspen Mountain and the town after an early season snowstorm on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

What better way to erase memories of 2020 than with a blanket of white? meteorologist Cory Gates is bullish on average to above average snowfall for Aspen and its ski areas this winter, with a handful of caveats.

“The final verdict, my educated guess for this winter is normal snow to as much as 10 to 20 percent above normal,” Gates wrote in his winter outlook report. (See factbox for his forecast for the four Aspen-Snowmass ski areas.) is a subscription-based micro-forecaster for the Upper Roaring Fork Valley. Gates has demonstrated his ability over the years to take general factors shaping up winter and applying them to create an accurate forecast for the Aspen area. He forecasts snowfall for the period from Oct. 1 through “early May.” Last year’s forecast became an afterthought when the coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of ski areas in Colorado in mid-March.

For the coming winter, he noted that forecasting models agree that there will be a La Niña, which means weather will be influenced by colder water in the Pacific Ocean along the equator. The only question is the strength of the La Niña. He’s assuming it will be moderate rather than strong or weak.

The past 11 moderate La Niña winters produced five years with above-average snowfall for the Aspen area, three with below-average snowfall and three at average. In the three winters with below-average snowfall, it was “way” below normal, Gates said.

“Moral of this story, at times La Niña winters can literally take your breath away,” he wrote in his outlook. “When La Niña winters are good, they are often very good. The negative, when La Niña winters are dry, they are often very dry.”

Gates is giddy about some other meteorological factors shaping up for winter. He wrote of a potential “loaded gun” that could bring heavy snows to the Rocky Mountains. That loaded gun is a “warm blob of water” in the central and northern Pacific Ocean. The blob, Gates wrote, could cause the storm track to run through the Northwest and then dip southeast into Utah and Colorado.

He foresees conditions ranging from wettest in the north and driest in the south. Southern Colorado and the Southwest are likely to be dry, prolonging drought conditions.

He noted that Aspen is far enough south that it will miss the storm track at times.

“In the heart of winter the jet is usually strong. This means storms are gonna get this far south,” Gates wrote. “There will be other times when the jet is a little weaker. This means Montana/Idaho/Wyoming get hammered and we get missed. There will be times Steamboat gets a foot and we get 2 inches. There will be other times when we are the winner when the jet is stronger. Overall, I think we have a decent winter before all is said and done.”

The most recent long-range outlook by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reflects conditions moving from wetter to drier when going north to south. However, it shows the Aspen area receiving slightly below normal snow for December through February.

The Farmer’s Almanac winter outlook for 2020-21 runs counter to NOAA. It foresees mild and dry conditions in the Pacific Northwest with cold and above normal snowfall throughout Montana, Wyoming and Colorado.

Gates cautioned that it could be a slow start to winter, in large part because of the drought conditions plaguing most of the West. The soil moisture is very low. When the ground is dry, it warms up faster. That may delay the onset of cold weather and require more time to establish snow cover, he wrote.