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Skiing Co.: `It absolutely will snow’

Jeremy Heiman

Despite the fact that summer appears to have a hold on Colorado, the Aspen Skiing Co. is predicting a powder-filled winter.

Skico Chief Operating Officer John Norton said Thursday he’s confident this will be a great winter.

“It absolutely will snow,” Norton said. “It also will get colder. We’re going to have a wonderful winter.”

Norton said the Skico’s snowmaking crews are making snow every moment that the temperature is cold enough, and Wednesday night was perfect for cranking out the white stuff.

Maureen Poschman, communications director for the Skico, said the warm, dry fall weather is actually more typical than the early snows Aspen has experienced in recent years. She noted that “The Farmer’s Almanac” says this winter will be wet and snowy.

However, Norton’s and Poschman’s optimism is not based in meteorological science. Weather experts are scratching their heads, without a clue as to what the long-range forecast should be for this winter.

The La Nia weather phenomenon that drove weather conditions last winter is still in effect, if only weakly. And that weakened La Nia is a confounding factor in making any kind of long-range prediction, meteorologists say.

La Nia is a worldwide weather phenomenon characterized by colder-than-normal water in the central southern Pacific Ocean. La Nia typically results in cold temperatures and storms that pound the Pacific Northwest states, an effect that carries across the northern Great Plains as well. The southern and southwestern states, meanwhile, tend to be warmer and drier than normal.

But Colorado is generally between the southern and northern areas characteristically affected by La Nia, said Nolan Doesken, assistant state climatologist at the Colorado Climate Center. That makes the state’s long-range weather much harder to predict than in states to the north and south of us. That’s true in La Nia years and in years when the opposite phenomenon, El Nio, is present, Doesken said.

Kevin Trenberth, head of the climate analysis section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, said the coming winter will be less affected by La Nia than last winter. About half the time, world weather is affected by either an El Nio or La Nia, and the other half, neither is in effect, he said.

“Right at the moment, I think that that’s pretty much the case,” Trenberth said. “The signature of La Nia won’t be so strong.” But not having either of the two doesn’t make forecasting any easier.

“There’s a big random component that’s really not predictable,” Trenberth said.

Doesken agrees. “When we’ve seen some success in long-range predictions, it’s been when there’s a strong driver in the Pacific,” Doesken said. “There’s a lot of climate variability that goes on in years that aren’t characterized by one or the other.”

But none of that tells us what we can expect this winter. “Normal” winters have a randomness that’s really not predictable, Trenberth said. A few big storms, some sunny days and some cold snaps are all elements that can be expected.

But those were also elements of last year’s La Nia winter in Colorado. Aspen enjoyed some snowy weeks in November and late January, interspersed with dry periods that lasted far too long.

One method tested in the past for predicting a precipitation trend for the coming winter is looking at October weather, Doesken said. That method isn’t cause for optimism, when we look at this year’s dry October and compare it with the winter of 1976-’77, he said. The dry fall continued right into the winter that year, resulting in the driest winter on record.

“But if you use October as a predictor for the rest of the winter, you’re going to be wrong a whole lot of the time,” Doesken concluded.


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