Winter prediction: above-normal temperatures

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By the numbers

Average snowfall in Craig

• 12 - average inches of December snowfall

• 15 - average inches of January snowfall

• 14 - average inches of February snowfall

• 74 - average inches of snowfall for entire winter season

• Winter prediction: above normal temperatures

— The air is cooling, and snowfall to this point has been more of a tease than a reality in Northwest Colorado.

But that could soon change, according to a Climate Prediction Center report.

Especially with a La Niña episode expected to roll in.

La Niña is defined as cooler-than-normal sea-surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific ocean, which has impacts on global weather patterns, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

From the ocean to Northwest Colorado, La Niña is expected to bring warmer-than-normal winter temperatures, more snowfall in the early winter months and less snowfall in the late winter months.

"Overall, we're looking at above-normal temperatures to prevail," said Jim Pringle, National Weather Service warning coordination meteorologist. "There is a pretty high confidence rate by the people at the Climate Prediction Center that will happen. : We were above normal (temperatures) last year, and we're predicting to be even more so this year."

If the anyslsis proves true, this year's snowfall would be similar to last year in Craig and Steamboat Springs.

Last year, Craig had 47 inches of snowfall in the early winter months - December, January and February - which was a 4.12 inches of water equivalent. Craig's annual snowfall finished at 70 inches.

In comparison, during the past 30 years, Craig has averaged 41 inches of snowfall and 3.09 inches of water equivalent during early winter months, and 74 inches of snowfall annually.

Steamboat Springs had a similar pattern but with more drastic results. Since 1908, Steamboat has averaged 99 inches of snowfall and a 7.11 inches water equivalent in the early winter months. Annually, Steamboat averages 166 inches of snowfall.

Last year, Steamboat Springs had 93.3 inches of snowfall and 6.32 inches of water equivalent in the early winter months, and 133 inches of snowfall for the year.

"I think part of that contribution (to less annual snow fall) is that we had above normal temperatures last year," Pringle said. "So, the depth of the snow tended to not be as great. It tended to be more dense, and this year, it is even more likely to have snowfall that is more dense than normal."

Warmer temperatures could also make snow pack an issue.

"Last year, with above-normal temperatures, snow melt came off most of our Colorado mountains about a month sooner than normal," Pringle said. "And based upon our anticipation of these above-normal temperatures that will likely continue through the spring when the snow melts, it's very likely that we will have an earlier-than-normal snow melt off our mountains."

The forecast for southwest Colorado is much different in comparison, with predictions of below normal precipitation and warmer temperatures throughout the winter months.

"The farther north you go in latitude in western Colorado during a moderate La Niña period, the more likely you are to have near-normal temperatures," Pringle said, "and the farther south you go in latitude, the less likely you are to have normal temperatures."

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