Warm winter in NOAA forecast | AspenTimes.com

Warm winter in NOAA forecast

Steve Benson

A warmer than normal winter is predicted for western Colorado and the Aspen area, according to a long-term projection released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) last week. Joe Ramey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said a weak El Niño event is to blame for the expected hike in temperatures. “Typically, during an El Niño [event] the storms move very quickly from west to east, and they don’t dig strongly down from the north,” he said. “You typically don’t get hard intrusions of cold air from the Arctic moving down into the area.” But then again, Ramey said anything can happen. Last year’s prediction was for a warm and dry winter, but until a heat wave in March, the Elk Mountains were experiencing a colder and snowier winter than normal. “Honestly, we did not do well last winter,” he said about the forecast, adding that a massive storm in January boosted the snowpack and kept the area cold for most of the month. “Any one storm can really skew the outcome, and that’s exactly what happened last winter.” Unlike last winter’s forecast, NOAA has not predicted how wet this winter will be, as the models could not recognize any trends, according to the forecast. But, it appears southwest Colorado, especially the San Juan’s, may benefit from the southerly track storms tend to take during El Niño years, Ramey said. As for the rest of the state, EL Niño may boost precipitation towards the end of the winter, in March and April.The drought in western Colorado continues, and in order for it to end, Ramey said the snowpack this winter will have to be 200 to 300 percent above normal, which he said is an unlikely scenario. “We’re predicting the drought will continue well into 2005,” he added. As for the short-term forecast, things are looking good for the local ski areas. Another storm blasted the Sierra Nevada on Tuesday, dumping an additional 2 feet on California’s Mammoth Mountain – October snowfall for that ski area has now reached 82 inches. And Utah is next – areas of the Wasatch could receive up to 3 feet of snow. That storm will eventually arrive in Colorado Thursday afternoon, Ramey said. Snow levels will initially remain above 9,500 feet but will creep down to 8,000 feet overnight with 4-7 inches of snow expected in Aspen by Friday morning, Ramey said. He added that by the time the storm wraps up Friday evening, locations above 8,500 feet in the Elk Mountains may be under a foot of new snow. But don’t keep your fingers crossed. A similar forecast was issued for the area last weekend, and it was never realized. Steve Benson’s e-mail address is sbenson@aspentimes.com


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