By Chris Spears

DENVER (CBS4) – You better get the snow blower ready if you live in Colorado and believe the Farmers’ Almanac. Their forecast calls for it to be cold and snowy this winter.

The official winter outlook released this week says the season ahead will be one of ‘great divide’ across the United States with drought in the west, a lot of snow in the north and crazy weather in between.

A snapshot from the Farmers’ Almanac website. (credit: Farmers’ Almanac)

I’m a little puzzled about their forecast for drought in the west and Colorado to be cold and snowy. Isn’t Colorado a western state currently in a significant drought? And isn’t every winter full of crazy, divided weather in the United States? Heck that’s true even over short distances between Denver and Summit County!

(credit: Farmers’ Almanac)

I definitely agree that drought will continue in the west and meteorologists at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center think so too. Drought expanded rapidly this summer and it now covers most western states.

A drought this widespread is hard to break without some type of slow-moving, large scale storm system like we saw in March 2003, where a 3-day snow event ended a major drought in Colorado. ‘Drought-buster’ weather events like that are rare.

Without a major storm it would take a lot of small, consistent storm systems to put a dent in (or even end) our drought. But you can’t always depend on the polar jet stream to deliver consistent weather, especially if La Niña develops this fall.

The state of drought in the United States as of August 18. (credit: US Drought Monitor)

NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting drought to persist through the upcoming fall season for a lot of the western United States. (credit: NOAA/CPC)

Last week NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center said there’s a 60 percent chance that La Niña will form over the next few months. That’s a key part to the winter forecast in Colorado because La Niña tends to keep the main part of the jet stream over the northern Rockies. As storms travel through Montana and Wyoming the northern mountains of Colorado often benefit but central and southern parts of the state either get grazed or miss out entirely.

Denver and the Front Range tends to be windy and sometimes on the dry side during a La Niña winter with a persistent flow of northwest wind aloft. But it is important to note that no two La Niña winters are ever alike.

A typical jet stream pattern during a La Niña winter. (credit: NOAA)

My advice when it comes to looking at these seasonal outlooks is to remember what an average is compared to time. The winter season in meteorology covers the months of December, January and February, which is 90 days.

We could have 75 dry days and 15 snowy ones that deliver more than our normal amount. A meteorologist would call that a snowy winter if we exceed our seasonal snowfall.

But a non-meteorologist could say it was a rough winter if those 15 days all involved bitter cold, or rough commutes to and from work. On the flip it may be considered an easy winter if temps are relatively mild and the snow falls mostly on weekends, never really causing an inconvenience to travel.

Seasonal forecasts are fun to look at but the bottom line is they are not necessarily good for long-term planning. Sometimes we get lucky and they work out. This is one time when I would personally like to see the Farmers’ Almanac be ‘spot on’ because we are teetering on a potentially bad situation with our drought and future water storage. We need heavy, consistent snow this winter to ensure things will be ok for next summer.

Chris Spears