By Chris Spears
DENVER (CBS4) – NOAA released the official winter outlook for the United States this week and it calls for most places to be warmer-than-normal during the upcoming winter season.
Warmer-than-normal means that when a mathematical average is taken of all highs and lows during December, January and February, it will be higher than the 30-year average.
Denver’s average temperature during the winter (December-February) is about 31°F.
Despite a warmer-than-normal temperature outlook occasional bouts of frigid weather are still to be expected.
In terms of precipitation, the southern tier of the lower 48 states are predicted to be wetter-than-normal along with parts of Alaska, which is pretty typical during an El Niño winter.
NOAA says there is currently a 70-75% chance that El Niño will form later this year.
When it comes to a winter outlook that includes El Niño you will often hear many across Colorado talk about snow.
That’s because we have seen some fairly large snow events during El Niño episodes, including the 1982 Christmas Blizzard, the October Blizzard in 1997 and the March 2003 blizzard which paralyzed the Front Range.
But the possible formation of an El Niño is by no means a guarantee for heavy winter snow in Colorado. There are several other variables at play, including the strength of the predicted El Niño, which this year is anticipated to be weak.
If that news disappoints you here’s a way to look at the upcoming winter with a glass half-full attitude.
Because Colorado is often near the storm track during an El Niño winter our chances to see average to above-average precipitation are better than during a non El Niño year, especially in the southern part of the state.
When looking ahead it should be noted that the current widespread drought could also play a role in future precipitation as storms move through Colorado.
Drought means there is little to no evaporation taking place which is a key part of the water cycle.
NOAA’s winter outlook says drought will likely persist in the Rocky Mountain region but notes there could be some improvement in southern Colorado as well as parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.
Meteorologist Chris Spears travels weekly in the CBS4 Mobile Weather Lab reporting about Colorado’s weather and climate. Check out his bio, connect with him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @ChrisCBS4.