Rain in Aspen in January?! | AspenTimes.com
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Rain in Aspen in January?!

Jeremy Heiman

In case you’ve been wondering whether January rain in Aspen is unusual … well, it is.

Until this week, January rain has only been seen in Aspen once since 1950 – when it threatened to cancel the International Ski Championships, an event which promised to put Aspen on the map as the first American town to ever host an international race.

The unseasonably warm temperatures we’ve experienced most of this winter have given way to even warmer temperatures. As a result, the Pacific moisture that usually falls as snow is drizzling down as rain.

Local weather watcher Jim Markalunas checked his records Tuesday and found the the only other instance of January rain in recent years occurred in 1987. Markalunas, who kept official weather records at the city of Aspen’s water plant for many years, said January 1987 was overall a cold month with some big snowfalls, but toward the end of the month things fell apart for a few days.

Temperatures ranged up to 54 degrees on Jan. 27 and 28. Workers at the water plant recorded .2 inches of rain before the town received an inch of snow. That day’s high reached 38 degrees.

Before that, Markalunas recalled, rain fell in Aspen as the town prepared for the International Ski Championships under the jurisdiction of the FIS (Federation Internationale de Ski), which were held in February 1950.

“It’s a rare occasion when it rains in January,” Markalunas said. Though it’s not unusual to see a brief January thaw, he said, warm temperatures have stuck around for a long time this month. He said he recorded a temperature of 56 degrees one day last week.

Yesterday’s rain came to us courtesy of Hawaii, according to Doug Baugh, a weather specialist for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

“It’s a warm southwesterly flow coming off the Pacific,” Baugh said. “It’s pumping moisture in here from the tropical Pacific, around Hawaii.”

Baugh said a weather balloon, which records temperatures aloft, indicated the freezing level over western Colorado was about 13,700 feet above sea level Tuesday morning.

“That’s almost like summertime levels,” Baugh said. And it probably won’t get much cooler in the next few days, he added. “It looks like that pattern’s going to stay with us all week.”

The worldwide La Nia climate conditions, which are supposedly controlling this winter’s weather conditions, are still at the helm, he said. The current southwesterly flow, which is more typical of La Nia’s opposite, an El Nio year, is an irregularity. La Nia years are characterized by a mass of colder-than-usual ocean water in the South Pacific, and that is still in place, Baugh said.

Unfortunately, another characteristic of a La Nia year is that atmospheric patterns, whatever they may be, persist for longer than in normal years, he said.

Baugh said toward the weekend, there’s a chance that some stray snow might fall in Aspen, as a storm travels inland from the Pacific Northwest. But Montana and Wyoming will probably take the brunt of that storm, he said. Still, the system will cool things off a bit here, he said.

After that, Baugh said, the next chance for snow will come with a storm that should come inland along the California coast and reach Colorado by perhaps Sunday night.


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