Forecasters predict wetter summer and drier winter
May precipitation in Summit County has already topped averages, and more rain and snow is forecasted for the rest of the month.
At the National Weather Service data collection point in Breckenridge, 1.79 inches of water have been recorded so far in May, compared to a monthly average of 1.74 inches from 1981 through 2010.
Meteorologist Kari Bowen said the service’s station at Dillon Reservoir has recorded an even greater difference of 1.85 inches so far, compared with May’s average of 1.32 inches of water total.
That water has fallen as heavy snow at Summit’s higher elevations.
The four SNOTEL sites that measure snowpack in Summit County show the Blue River Valley’s snowpack increased to 200 percent of average for May 20, nearly catching up to the snowpack recorded on May 20, 2014.
In parts of the Front Range and Eastern Plains, the heavy precipitation that has persisted over the last few weeks has led to flood warnings.
State climatologist Nolan Doesken, with the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University, said a number of places in the state have recorded precipitation well above average, especially around Colorado Springs and Fort Morgan where some spots have received between 10 and 15 inches of rain.
THE OCEAN EFFECT
El Niño has been credited for the turn to cool, damp weather this spring with back-to-back storms, Doesken said. El Niño occurs when sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean around the equator are above average for a prolonged period, and the phenomenon affects much of the Earth’s climate.
Doesken said the heavy precipitation has assuaged wildfire fears this summer.
“It’s a great help,” he said. “A full month of cooler, damper weather will delay any major wildfire concerns for several weeks.”
That means any fires will likely occur more into the summer when winds are weaker.
The rain and snow also means Denver Water won’t take as much water early in the summer from Dillon Reservoir, which filled earlier than usual this year. Doesken said Summit’s snowpack fared much better this winter than in the rest of the state.
“You weren’t abundant. You were just near average,” he said, “but everybody else was just wretched.”
Further west, the recent storms mean flows will be higher in rivers that water supply managers initially predicted would flow at 40 percent of the seasonal average. The precipitation has upped those streamflow forecasts by 10 to 30 percent, Doesken said, calling the flows less abysmal.
For the next three months, Bowen said the state will see more above-average precipitation and normal temperatures.
Doesken said the weather should soon change to a typical summer pattern with afternoon showers instead of multi-day storms.
For the coming winter, National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Kelsch said El Niño typically means wetter winters for the southern U.S. He added that because Colorado lies in the middle of the country, the state will have a better chance for a wetter fall and spring, especially in the San Juan Mountains.
Doesken said though El Niño could spell more fall and springtime snow, Summit County will likely see reduced snowfall next winter.
“Every El Nino has a little different shape and flavor and taste, so it’s always a little bit hard to know what’s what,” he said, cautioning that predictions that far into the future are less reliable.
MARCH SNOW IN MAY
Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, the only ski area still open in Colorado, has received 18 inches of snow since Sunday, said Leigh Hierholzer, director of marketing, communications and sales. So far this May, the ski area has received 44 inches of snow compared to the month’s average of 30 inches.
With another week and a half of the month to go, the ski area would need several more dumps to approach its May record of more than 80 inches of snow in 1995, she said.
The ski area has certainly benefited from the added moisture over the last five weeks. Since it started snowing on April 16, Hierholzer said A-Basin has received 85 inches and its base has grown from 41 inches to 60 inches.
Forecaster Joel Gratz of OpenSnow.com predicted another storm will arrive Thursday night, with snow falling above 10,000 feet in a similar pattern as the Monday night snowfall and amounting to between 3 and 6 inches in areas along and east of the Continental Divide.
Another storm will move in on Friday night and bring showers Saturday and Sunday, and next week Gratz called for more showers and warmer temperatures.
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