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November 29, 2012
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Too soon to call upcoming snow season in Summit County

A sunny Thanksgiving weekend left some wringing their hands that last year's snow-deprived winter might be on track to repeat itself. But even considering the season's slow start, experts say it's still too soon to tell how the winter will play out.

While the 2012-13 ski season is off to a slow start - Breckenridge has received only 2 inches of snow in November, desperately short of the town's 24-inch average for the month - weather watchers say they don't know what the rest of the winter will bring.

"The long-term models don't show any indication of deviation from normal," National Weather Service meteorologist Kyle Fredin said. "What that means is we can maybe start looking at normal precipitation loads for the December, January and February period."

Forecasters usually base long-term prediction models on El Nino and La Nina patterns. An El Nino winter will likely favor southern Colorado with the prime powder. A La Nina year, like the almost-legendary winter of 2010-11, tends to suggest a better winter is in store for the northern part of the state, including Summit County. But in the throes of a worsening drought, this year is unhelpfully following what forecasters jokingly call La Nada - showing neither pattern and making it difficult for weather watchers to anticipate any long-term trends at all.

"The crystal ball is a little fuzzy," said Bob Henson, of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder.

But it would be reaching to call forecasters optimistic.

There's little moisture in the seven to 10-day forecast, the timeframe meteorologists can predict with some accuracy, and long-term models point to above-average temperatures if nothing else. This winter likely won't deliver what Colorado needs to escape the drought, experts say.

"Watching the maps, I'm not encouraged," Henson said. "Even getting a regular season, our water supply will still be underplenished. We really need a wetter-than-average year, and there's just no clear indication of what will happen through the whole winter other than the fact that this current drought seems to be growing."

Although it may not be enough to cure the drought conditions, long-range forecasts point to an average winter for snowfall in the sense that they do not suggest a particularly wet or dry season is on the way.

Still, some weather watchers are wary of any kind of long-term prediction.

"Long-term forecasts are horrifically inaccurate," Boulder forecaster and founder of OpenSnow.com Joel Gratz said. "I put almost no stock in long-term forecasts."

Gratz looks instead at two indicators: the 10-day forecast, which currently holds two snowstorms of questionable strength for Summit County, and statistics from similar years in the past.

Of the four seasons in the last 30 years that have started off with little snow, like this year, two have turned into average winters. The other two continued to see low snow accumulations and went on to be dry winters.

"Half have recovered and the other half, you don't recover," Gratz said. "But there's no guarantee that we won't have some massively amazing March and April. Nobody knows."

The spring months tend to be the snowiest in Summit County.

In the foreseeable future, forecasters agree there is likely at least a little bit of snow on the way. There is a 20 percent chance of snow on Sunday and another storm may be brewing for the second week of December.

The end of the month might be more promising.

"There's some hints of changes coming in mid-December," Fredin said. "There may be a better chance for precipitation and better temperature toward the middle to end of December."


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The Summit Daily Updated Nov 30, 2012 01:34PM Published Nov 29, 2012 09:31PM Copyright 2012 The Summit Daily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.