February 11, 2008

Snow In Colorado Exceeds Early Season Forecast For Second Straight Year

"I'm sticking with my forecast, except that I acknowledge I have some egg on my face"--Klaus Wolter, meteorologist affiliated with the University of Colorado and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


Klaus Wolter, egg on his face

More like completely defied the weather forecasters' and climatologists' prognostications that called for a dry, warm winter:
It wasn't supposed to be this way.

The National Weather Service's "probability forecast" called for a drier than normal winter in southwestern Colorado. But as meteorologist Aldis Strautins of the National Weather Service in Grand Junction explains, probability is not cast in stone.

"When you're talking about climate and probability forecasts, saying that the probability is a little higher that it's going to be drier doesn't mean it still couldn't be a wet year. That's what's happened so far. You have a better chance of drier weather, but it's still possible you can get these other events. And the season's not through."
Of course, this isn't the first time that seasonal projections failed to adequately describe what would happen. Just remember last season's blizzard, which came on the heels of a similar three-month projection that also called for dry weather and little precipitation.

What was the prediction last November (11-27-07 to be exact)?
Mountain snowpacks are thin statewide — a quarter as deep as normal in southwestern Colorado — and weather forecasters are predicting a relatively warm, dry winter for most of the state.

The Gunnison River Basin reported snowpack levels 29 percent of normal Monday, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and the South Platte River Basin was at 57 percent of normal.

The next few months do not look a whole lot better.

"Oh, it's dry and grim," said Klaus Wolter, a meteorology researcher with the University of Colorado and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder.
. . .
Wolter said this winter may disappoint those who love winter storms. "Everything seems to be shifted north this year," he said.

That's despite the strong La Niña weather system that has set up in the Pacific Ocean. La Niñas usually mean dry falls and springs and snowier-than-average winters in the mountains.

La Niñas occur when temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean are lower than normal. That affects weather patterns around the globe and often brings extra moisture to Colorado in December or January.

"I don't see that happening this year," Wolter said. "The storm tracks are shifted north," along with the jet stream.

Ken Reeves, a senior meteorologist and director of forecasting for AccuWeather Inc., agreed with Wolter.

"There's going to be a tremendous amount of moisture firehosed up into the Pacific Northwest, and the question is, will any of that end up in Colorado's central mountains?"

"Right now, I think it probably won't get much closer than Utah, western Wyoming," Reeves said. "It is a possibility, but I don't see a spout of storms piling up snow there this year."
. . .
"I am very concerned that Colorado, which is essentially drought-free on the national drought monitor, might see regions of drought develop by spring," Wolter said.
Whoops!

In fact, getting the weather gurus to admit their models are flawed or that their forecasts are off is incredibly difficult, even in the face of countervailing evidence:
Forecasters are holding to their predictions of a dry winter for Colorado despite blasts of snow that have continued into mid-January and set snowpack records in the southwestern mountains.

Admitting that the string of major storms over the past six weeks caught him off guard, one top federal forecaster nonetheless said a strong La Nina effect is likely to keep the state mostly dry through March.

"I'm sticking with my forecast, except that I acknowledge I have some egg on my face," said Klaus Wolter, a meteorologist affiliated with the University of Colorado and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Wolter said his prediction applied to the January-March period, not to December - a point he said he didn't make clear enough in media interviews. Even so, he said the string of big, wet storms running through the state late last year was historic.

"I certainly can't remember in 20 years of living here anything like that," he said. "I think we should count our blessings. We got lucky."

That "moisture pipeline," Wolter said, was fueled by the so-called Pineapple Express, a weather system with its origins near the Hawaiian tropics. But, he added, it is bound to dry up.

"The writing is on the wall," he said.
That was a month ago--mid-January.

The writing is on the wall--but the meteorologists/climatologists don't seem capable of reading it.

Local snowpack numbers are at impressive levels. More amazement:
7News Chief Meteorologist Mike Nelson says in his 17 years here in Colorado, he cannot remember a more prolific snow season in the high country as they are seeing this season.

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