From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):
The payoff for Colorado from El Niño might take six months to take shape, and could leave ski resorts wishing for some other weather pattern, an expert in the weather pattern said Wednesday.
El Niño — a warming of the waters in the Pacific Ocean frequently tied to strong precipitation over the western Continental United States — already is taking shape and it looks to be a “big boy,” climate researcher Klaus Wolter told the Colorado Mesa University Water Center’s Upper Colorado River Basin Water Forum.
That doesn’t mean Colorado’s ski resorts can simply dispense with snowmaking and wait for the snowy bounty to fall from the skies, though.
Snowpack, in fact, could dip below average come March 1, Wolter said.
If the 2016 version of El Niño is like four of its five predecessors, though, the March 1 to May 1 period could deliver the goods, Wolter said, in the form of high-country snowfall that will regenerate reservoir storage and send runoff down the Colorado River to Lake Powell.
Even though the signals are suggesting a strong El Niño, it’s far from a given that the phenomenon will bring much needed water to a parched Southwest.
“This fall still needs work,” said Wolter, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Earth Systems Research Lab at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Ski resorts have greeted the prospect of a poor winter less than enthusiastically, Wolter said.
Still, “A bad day of skiing in Colorado is better than a good day skiing in Michigan,” Wolter said.
At best, Wolter said, El Niño looks to be a mixed blessing.
Even a low-snow winter will have plenty of cold spells and is likely to reduce the chances of more intrusions of deep Arctic cold air into the United States, like the recent “polar-vortex” phenomenon, Wolter said.