A shot of winter weather has put Southwest Colorado in contention for a normal snow year, but La Niña could get in the way.
Recent snowfall put Cortez precipitation near the 30-year average for January and the winter season, said Jim Andrus, local weather observer for the National Weather Service.
Mountain snowpack also made decent gains.
For Cortez, January had .78 inches of precipitation, which is 89% of the normal .88 inches for the month. The total includes snow-water equivalent of the snowfall.
When just snowfall is measured, Cortez was above average for January, Andrus said. About 11.5 inches of snow came down, which is 111% of the normal 9.7 inches.
For the winter season to date, Cortez has had 20.1 inches of snow, or 95% of the average 21.2 inches through January. The winter season is from October to May.
“We’ve got a good start for 2021, but we have a lot of ground to cover,” Andrus said.
The San Juan Mountains saw improved snowpack in late January.
On Feb. 4, snow-water equivalent for the Dolores Basin portion of the San Juans was 79% of the average, up from 64% of average on Jan. 11.
The combined snow water equivalent for the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan Basins was 82% of normal, as of Feb. 4.
The Telluride ski area reported a 46-inch base Feb. 4, with 6 inches in the past 24 hours. Conditions were powder and packed powder.
Purgatory reported a 46-inch base and 3 inches of fresh snow in the past 24 hours. Conditions were packed powder and powder.
Andrus said recent low pressure in the region helped to draw the jet stream further south, and with it came three good storms.
Variations in upper air patterns have increased the chances for meaningful precipitation, he said.
But there is a lot of catching up to do.
Southwest Colorado remains in the exceptional drought category, the highest of five drought levels, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
The dry spell stems from 2020, which saw just 6.49 inches of precipitation in Cortez, or 52% of the normal 12.7 inches.
“I’d use two words to describe why: La Niña,” said Andrus.
The weather phenomenon is caused when the equatorial Pacific cools below average, which can lead to a winter storm pattern that does not favor the Southwest.
Its opposite, El Niño, is when the Equatorial Pacific warms above the average, which increases probability for a more southern storm track through the Four Corners in winter.
La Niña is expected to continue through the Northern Hemisphere through the winter, with a 55% chance of transitioning to neutral in spring, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Cortez weather forecast shows a warming trend, with highs in mid-to-high 40s through next Thursday, according to the weather service.