By Justin McHeffey
By Justin McHeffey
The Climate Prediction Center has released their latest outlook for the spring season and it looks promising — more precipitation than normal for Colorado. Confidence is high that their projection is accurate given the outcome of our last three month period: The odds were in our favor for wetter-than-normal conditions, and it came true.
Looking back at December, January, and February of 2015/2016, Denver recorded more moisture than it normally does if all months are averaged together. Liquid water measured out to 1.69″, or, 27.5″ of snow at Denver International Airport. We’re not even through the month of February yet and have surpassed the normal amount of water (1.13″) and snow (21.5″) for this time frame.
NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center bases their forecast upon large scale circulation patterns and weather trends from around the world. Our current El Niño episode weighs heavily on where the CPC believes the most moisture will fall across the U.S. In this case, they believe the warmer-than-normal sea surface temperatures in the Pacific will contribute to more snow in Colorado March through May.
The Three-Month Precipitation Outlook shows a 50 percent chance of above normal snowfall during the spring. So what exactly does that mean? These maps show the probability that a particular event has of happening — for Colorado, the chance for greater than average precipitation. While the green shaded area does cover most of our state, there is still the possibility that other outcomes will occur. The color schemes are divided three ways: above normal (green), below normal (brown), and equal chances of each (white).
Since the green color indicates a 50 percent chance of more precipitation than average, it also has implications on the other two events from happening. This means that although more snow than normal is most probable, it also means there’s a 30 percent chance of normal snowfall, and a 20 percent chance of below normal snowfall. For example, when we say, “there’s a 50 percent chance for rain this weekend,” we’re also saying, “there’s a 50 percent chance it won’t rain this weekend.”
The longer-term forecast does suggest that next summer and fall will bring vastly different weather. A La Niña episode may begin during fire season as the atmospheric circulation changes with ocean temperature patterns. This would clamp down on the moisture flow and could increase our risk for wildfires. We’ll see how the next three months play out and if the current climate forecast verifies again.