El Niño To Continue Into Summer, Colorado Expert Warns

DENVER (CBS4) – Forecasters say a strengthening El Niño will last through the summer and potentially beyond.

But what that means for Colorado isn’t 100 percent clear.

El Niño is a warming of sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern equatorial waters of the Pacific Ocean which can have an impact on global climate patterns.

Typically El Niño has the most impact on North America during the fall and winter.

But sometimes the weather phenomenon can bring periods of heavy rain to the central Rocky Mountains during the summer.

“Overall El Niño is good news for Colorado for the remainder of spring, summer and early fall,” said Klaus Wolter, a research scientist with NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder.

But Wolter stressed there is one exception: the increased risk for flooding.

Three of Colorado’s biggest flood events happened during El Niño episodes.

  • The Denver Flood of 1965

  • The Big Thompson Flood of 1976

  • The Fort Collins Flood of 1997

  • But an El Niño during summer doesn’t always mean it will be wet.

    “This is not a shoo-in, for instance, 2002 was an El Niño summer that was characterized by forest fires rather than a good monsoon,” said Wolter.

    One of the biggest fires from that summer was the Hayman Fire which burned more than 137,000 acres southwest of Denver.

    The Hayman Fire burned over 137,000 acres in 2002. (credit: CBS)

    The Hayman Fire burned over 137,000 acres in 2002. (credit: CBS)

    FLOOD RISK CURRENTLY ELEVATED

    Given that we’ve had such a wet spring already along the Front Range the stage is set for us to potentially deal with occasional flood worries in the weeks to come.

    It will all depend on the frequency and intensity of future storms.

    LONG-RANGE OUTLOOK

    The latest 90-day outlook from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is calling for a wet and cool pattern to continue for Colorado.

    Long term averages are difficult because it’s a mathematical average of all the weather over a period of 90 days.

    So while we could end up having an average that is cooler and wetter than normal that doesn’t mean there won’t be some warm and dry periods in between.

    We’ll just have to watch and see how it all plays out as we move into June!

    The 90-day precipitation outlook from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center issued May 21, 2015. (credit: CBS)

    The 90-day precipitation outlook from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center issued May 21, 2015. (credit: CBS)

    The 90-day temperature outlook from NOAA's Climate Prediction Center issued May 21, 2015. (credit: CBS)

    The 90-day temperature outlook from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center issued May 21, 2015. (credit: CBS)

    Wildfire Resources

    – Visit CBSDenver.com’s Living With Wildfire section.

    Wildfire Photo Galleries

    – See images from the most destructive wildfires (Black Forest, Waldo Canyon, High Park and Fourmile) and largest wildfire (Hayman) in Colorado history.

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