Future Outlook

Powder Prognosis

El Niño, the Pacific Ocean weather engine that drives winter storms across the western United States, is revving up to be one of the most powerful in years. Three snow-forecasting experts weigh in on what that might mean locally.

By Catherine Lutz November 1, 2015 Published in the Holiday 2015 issue of Aspen Sojourner

Aspen Sojourner: What does the winter look like for Aspen/Snowmass?

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Cory Gates, AspenWeather.net

Only two El Niños of this strength have ever occurred since we started keeping records—1982–83 and 1997–98—and those two winters were very snowy in Aspen. There’s overwhelming evidence that October, November, and December are wetter than normal, that January and February are normal-ish, and that March through May are wetter again. If everything fell into place, I have no problem seeing a 400-inch winter in Snowmass—but I’m thinking 320 to 365 inches for the ski areas, about 10 percent above normal. So definitely above normal, definitely a chance it could be epic.



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Steve Conney, Powderchasers.com

A strong El Niño for Aspen has historically not done as well as a strong La Niña, since Aspen is on the edge of the region that typically sees above-normal snowfall with El Niño. I’m predicting an average or slightly below-average year, with fewer storms but some very deep storms. But, meteorological trends in the past five years have shown there’s no real trend: there are more exceptions than not.





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Joel Gratz, OpenSnow.com

El Niño typically has a strong (positive) impact for snowfall in southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, maybe extending into southern Utah, and southern Colorado. Aspen is not clear-cut. If we get more storms from the southwest, Snowmass could do better than the other three mountains. Also, during the two previous strong El Niño seasons of ’82–’83 and ’97–’98, the season started strong and ended strong, with below-average snow during the meat of the season in December and January. We’ll see if that happens again.




Sojourner: How many days of double-digit snowfall (ten inches plus) will Aspen Mountain see this winter?

Gates: 10 - 12

Conney: 4 - 6

Gratz: Can't say. I don't have expertise in picking the number of ten-plus-inch days, and I am not going to randomly guess.


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