Snowpack across state well below average - KOAA.com | Continuous News | Colorado Springs and Pueblo

Snowpack across state well below average

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The typical set-up for a La Nina pattern. The typical set-up for a La Nina pattern.

Despite multiple areas receiving several inches of snow Monday morning, the snowpack across the state is still well below average.

With a warm November and thus far a warm December, the lack of snow may not be a surprise to Colorado residents; but why is it happening?

According to the Natural Resource Conservation Service of Colorado's snow survey program, every area of the state is below the average amount of snowfall when compared with the past 40 years. The culprit of these dry conditions may be a rare weather system known as La Nina.  

Thanks to Chris Farley, most of us have heard of El Nino, but not many know about La Nina. KOAA meteorologist Sam Schreier explains the fickle weather pattern here:

A La Niña Advisory simply means La Niña conditions are being observed and are expected to continue. Currently there is a 65-75% La Niña conditions will continue at least through the winter.

What Does This Mean For Southern Colorado?

There are positives and negatives for southern Colorado during La Niña years, and honestly most people are going to enjoy the pattern. La Nina winters for the southern United States, lifting up into southern Colorado, tend to mean warmer than average winter temperatures with less snow. That means we'll probably see more warm and dry winter days with smaller chances for weekly big snows. The negative side of a La Niña pattern means we'll probably see drought conditions settle back into southern Colorado and that combined with high wind events through the winter will lead to very high fire danger well into the Spring.

The funny thing about La Niña years in southern Colorado is that our data supports that they tend to produce dry, warm years... but it doesn't always happen. The graph below shows Colorado Springs precipitation on strong La Niña years from 1950 through present day. As you can see, all but four of the green precipitation bars come in below average. This means we have the data to support Colorado Springs, especially during strong La Niña years, tends to be drier, meaning we get less snow over the Winter. The goofy thing is that doesn't always happen, 1999 La Niña year actually had the most annual precipitation and came in way above average. This is most likely due to our proximity to the mountains, all it takes is just enough moisture and cold air to run into those mountains and give Springs a foot of snow and bam we're on our way to an above average precipitation year.

Forecasters at the Climate Prediction Center have posted their Winter Outlook and the results are fitting for a La Niña winter: More snow for the central and northern Rockies with warmer than average southern Colorado Winters.

Meteorologist Sam Schreier also put together a great video explanation of how a La Niña pattern forms.

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