The Four Corners is still trending toward a wetter, cooler winter thanks to a strong El Niño, reports the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
The 2015-16 winter forecast from December to February shows a 33 to 40 percent chance that the Four Corners will be wetter than normal. New Mexico and Texas have a 50 percent probability of a wetter-than-normal winter.
But NWS forecaster Joe Ramey cautions that the strong El Niño does not guarantee an above-average winter for the Dolores and San Miguel basins.
“It shifts the Pacific jet stream south, which favors more of the Southern states,” he said. “The Four Corners area is on the northern boundary of the El Niño impact.”
For example, the last strong El Niño was the winter of 1997-1998, which produced below-average snowpack for the Dolores Basin.
El Niños are characterized by a warming of the Equatorial Pacific, and the current increase of 36.5 degrees fahrenheit (2.5 Celsius) is considered strong. Since 1950, there have been 21 El Niños, with six of them rated as strong, Ramey said.
The flip side of El Niño is that is spells drier conditions for the Northwest, which had record low snowpack last winter.
Ramey added that the current west-to-east weather patterns indicates that El Niño has kicked in, bringing additional moisture to the Southwest because of the southern shift in the jet stream.
“The monsoons that bring up moisture from the tropical south have ended,” Ramey said. “These recent storms are coming from the west, which coincides with the El Niño signal.”
Current weather corresponds to the trend as well, said Jim Andrus, a local weather watcher for the NWS.
October moisture 112 percent of normal for Cortez. And year-to-date moisture for the Cortez area is 137 percent of normal at 14.9 inches of precipitation.
According to the NWS, the 30-day precipitation outlook is above normal for Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. The 90-day forecast is slated for normal to above normal precipitation for those same areas.
The U.S. drought outlook shows some improvement, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Relief is likely in central and southern Californian by the end of January, but an end to the drought there is not expected.
“While it is good news that drought improvement is predicted for California, one season of above-average rain and snow is unlikely to remove four years of drought,” said Mike Halpert, deputy director for NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. “California would need close to twice its normal rainfall to get out of drought and that’s unlikely.”
However, drought removal is likely across large parts of the Southwest. The NOAA drought prediction map released Oct. 15, shows Colorado breaking free of drought conditions for 2016. Northwestern New Mexico and northeastern Arizona, are labeled “drought removal likely.”
Drought is expected to persist in the Pacific Northwest and northern Rockies because of the El Niño weather pattern that shifts the Pacific jet stream south carrying storms with it.
Meteorologists predict the ongoing El Niño event will peak in late autumn and diminish in magnitude through the late winter and spring.