A lost friend of farmers, skiers, and boaters may revisit the Four Corners soon.
The El Niño Southern Oscillation phenomenon in the Eastern Pacific Ocean is predicted to form this summer, potentially bringing moisture to the area.
El Niño forms when the equatorial ocean waters off of South America heat up by 0.5 degree centigrade, or more, over a three-month period, explained Joe Ramey a forecaster and climatologist with the National Weather Service.
“Modeling and our best forecasts show it is on the way,” he said. “It is not a perfect forecast, but El Niño is loosely correlated to increased moisture for the Four Corners area.”
The ocean temperature fluctuations aren’t fully understood, but the heating is linked to a jet stream that dips farther south, bringing more precipitation.
“It can translate to a better monsoon season and increases snowstorms and snowpack,” Ramey said. “This year, the San Juans kind of got cheated with snowpack, so hopefully that will change this winter.”
The opposite happens when the ocean cools by a 0.5 centigrade – La Niña. The effect for North America in that case is the jet stream is pushed north, pulling storms away from the Southwest during winter.
A climate prediction from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows above-normal precipitation for the West this summer.
There have been 16 El Niño’s since 1950. They increase probability for moisture in southern Colorado, but it doesn’t always materialize, Ramey said.
Snowpack for the Dolores basin was 83 percent of normal this winter.