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El Nino winter in Colorado should mean break from snow soon

10:56 PM, Jan 4, 2010   |    comments
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In some shady spots, snow from October is still there buried beneath the newer layers that just seem to keep coming. Of course, Coloradans are used to the cold and snow. We're just not used to it lingering.

"What's remarkable about this year is how persistent it's been. We haven't really set many records, but it hasn't been warm at all," Matt Kelsch said.

Kelsch is a precipitation expert-a hydrometeorologist-at the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder. He says Boulder has had twice as much snow as usual so far this winter. In Denver, we're a foot above average. The cause is El Nino: warmer temperatures in the Pacific Ocean that affect weather patterns around the world.

"If this is a typical El Nino year we should expect a dryer period mid-winter, January and February," Kelsch said.

That means we just might see our lawns again before May. The last time we've had this snowy of a winter was in the last El Nino year in 2006-2007. That was the year of that major blizzard just before Christmas. But that year, El Nino was weak. This year, it isn't, which means even if we get a break from the snowfall in January and February, we should brace for possible big storms in March and April. That might not be a bad thing.

"Parts of the western part of the state have not necessarily been as wet as we have here, and that's where a lot of the Denver area's water comes from," Kelsch points out.

In most places west of the Divide, snow pack levels are a bit below average. It's not been a bad year in that regard, but they would certainly like to see a little more snow in those areas. And, of course, it would be welcome at the ski resorts.

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