Snowpack news: Flat-line, but there is hope

Click on a thumbnail graphic for a gallery of snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (John Stroud):

El Niño-influenced weather patterns that have brought much-needed rains to drought-stricken Southern California have also left Colorado ski resorts high and dry heading into the critical holiday season after a spate of early snowstorms allowed many ski areas to open ahead of schedule.

The culprit, according to Joe Ramey, a forecaster and climate specialist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, is the warmer-than-normal sea temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean that define El Niño years.

“Through November, we had storms coming in from the Pacific Northwest, plowing in across Seattle and the northern Rockies and grazing northern Colorado,” Ramey explained. “But that pattern has broken down now.”

In its place is a more typical El Niño pattern where storms are now tracking due east off the Pacific and across Southern California and the desert Southwest.

“That tends to leave the central mountains and northwest Colorado drier than normal,” Ramey said.

That’s not to say the same pattern will dictate the entire winter season, but it has been the trend in other El Niño years, most recently 2009-10 and 2006-07, he said.

Conversely, years when eastern Pacific sea temperatures are colder, known as La Niña, tend to produce more snow in the central and northern Rockies, while neutral years, such as the past two winters, “tend to be wild card years,” Ramey said.

At any rate, a lack of new snow since Nov. 26 and forecasts calling for daytime highs in the mid- to upper 40s this week with little chance of precipitation until next weekend prompted Sunlight Mountain Resort south of Glenwood Springs to suspend lift operations until Friday.

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