Another El Niño winter is in store for Summit County, according to a six-month forecast released by meteorologist Joel Gratz and his team at OpenSnow. The forecast predicts about average levels of snowfall for Colorado from November through April, with the season favoring ski areas in the south and less predicted precipitation for those further north.
“We show a range since it’s a six-month forecast, so we can’t be too specific. It’s around average, plus or minus,” Gratz said. “El Niño does not have a huge impact on Summit County snowfall, unfortunately.”
OpenSnow creates the forecast by gathering snowfall data from weather stations near ski areas, assessing and forecasting ocean temperatures and forecasting how those will translate into snowfall patterns throughout the winter season. El Niño signifies warmer than average water temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, bringing in heaver precipitation in the south and east coast regions.
The six-month forecast, released Oct. 21, defines below-average snowfall as less than 90 percent of normal snow, average snowfall as 90 to 110 percent and above-average as greater than 110 percent.
“A lot of places last year ended up somewhere between 75 and 100 percent of average. That’s entirely possible this year,” he added. “Really, what it comes down to is just a couple of big storms can provide more than half of the snowfall during a season. That’s the real challenge when you look at all of these averages. You get a couple of big storms, and things look good.”
OpenSnow forecasted a bracket of expected snowfall for each individual ski area. For example, Arapahoe Basin Ski Area is forecasted at 76 to 114 percent of average snowfall, while Breckenridge Ski Resort is forecasted at 79 to 117 percent of average.
By comparison, Wolf Creek Ski Area, located south in the San Juan national forest, is forecasted at 95 to 129 percent of average snowfall. North of Summit County, Steamboat Ski Resort is forecasted at 70 to 106 percent of average.
All averages will be updated on Nov. 10, further into the winter season.
“Pretty much what we’ve been advertising is that El Niño favors the southern mountains, central mountains and eastern slopes,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Kyle Fredin.
While the snow may come a bit later this season than average, Gratz added the possibility of a strong spring season, like last winter, was a possibility.
“Looking at some of the past El Niño years, there has been a trend toward good snowfall late in the season,” he said. “That could be a local special.”
At this point in the season, it’s too early to tell.
“Every El Niño year is a little bit different,” he added.