Southwest Colorado may escape the arid grip of the La Niña weather pattern, with forecasters saying there’s a good chance El Niño, and the moisture it brings, will return this fall.
One of the major dictators of weather in Southwest Colorado is surface water temperatures in the eastern-central Pacific Ocean that come in cycles known as the “El Niño-Southern Oscillation climate pattern.”
When surface water temperatures in the ocean are colder than normal, a La Niña pattern kicks in. La Niñas typically bring above-average temperatures and little, if any, precipitation to Southwest Colorado.
This past year has been a classic La Niña pattern, with little snowpack and virtually no precipitation, resulting in one of the driest years in Southwest Colorado’s recorded history.
Since April, the region has been listed in “exceptional drought” – the most intense drought category, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. As of Tuesday, the region still holds this listing.
However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center released some good news recently: El Niño, which holds the promise for more moisture, could be on its way.
The opposite of La Niña, an El Niño, which often brings Southwest Colorado winters with plentiful snowfall, occurs when surface water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean are warmer than normal, which results in a better chance for precipitation.
Michelle L’Heureux, a climate scientist for NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, said Southwest Colorado has been in a “neutral” weather pattern since the effects of La Niña subsided a few months ago.
The latest predictions, however, show there’s a 70 percent chance El Niño will take hold this fall.
“Odds favor the formation of El Niño coming up into the fall and lasting through the winter,” L’Heureux said. “But the emphasis is on ‘odds.’ It’s not a guarantee.”
The Climate Prediction Center bases its forecast of a coming El Niño on a number of variables. The center evaluates conditions daily to determine whether El Niño is building. Conditions typical of an El Niño need to persist for several months before the center can officially declare it an El Niño year, L’Heureux said.