Loveland ski area turned on the snow guns Monday. Neighboring Arapahoe Basin and Keystone also have begun making snow. (Dustin Schaefer, Loveland ski area)

As Loveland, Arapahoe Basin and Keystone run their snow guns in hopes of offering skiing within the next 2-3 weeks, meteorologists are monitoring a climate trend that suggests Colorado’s northern mountains will have the best chance for snow this winter.

Steamboat has reason to be “optimistic,” according to Russ Schumacher, the Colorado state climatologist and director of the Colorado Climate Center. The pattern might be good for areas as far south as Interstate 70, Schumacher said, but Colorado’s southern mountains may be in for another meager season.

Precipitation patterns in the U.S. are largely related to the temperature of surface waters in the east and central Pacific Ocean along the equator. Above-average temperatures there create the El Niño phenomenon, which typically produces storm tracks that favor the southern U.S. La Niña storm tracks favor the northern U.S. Colorado falls in the middle, which complicates forecasting.

This year, a moderate or strong La Niña is predicted to be in place from November through January and is expected to persist through the winter, according to the U.S. Climate Prediction Center.

“The La Niña pattern is generally warm and dry to the south, cool and wet to the north,” Schumacher said. “The caveat is that Colorado is kind of in the middle, in terms of how the storm track evolves during a La Niña winter or El Niño winter, so it only explains so much of what’s happening here. Historically La Niña is pretty good for northern mountains. The farther north you go, the better.”

There are anomalies within those patterns, though.

“If we look back at the last couple of La Niña’s we’ve had, 2017-2018 was a really bad winter to the south but wasn’t bad in Steamboat,” Schumacher said. “Then we go back to 2011-2012, which was a horrible year, and 2010-11, which was a huge snow year. Especially in the northern mountains, 2011 was one of the biggest snow years we’ve ever had. But the following winter was also La Niña, and was the start of a really bad drought.”

Ninety-day forecasts from the National Weather Service predict above-normal temperatures in Colorado and below-normal precipitation. A persistent high-pressure ridge over Colorado isn’t helping the outlook for precipitation in our drought-stricken state, sending storms north of us.

“We’ve been under this persistent high-pressure ridge over the west for the whole summer and persisting into now, aside from that one week in early September when we got the huge cold front and early snow,” Schumacher said. “The storm track has been to our north. The Midwest, into the eastern part of the U.S., has been very active with rain and storms. At least for the next couple weeks, that looks to persist. We may have a couple of troughs dive down, similar to what happened on Sunday when the northern mountains and a bit of the central mountains may get a quick shot of snow and a cool-off for a day or two, but then it goes back to being warm and dry again.”

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One or two Colorado ski areas have managed to open in October every year since 1992, when Loveland and Keystone both opened on Nov. 3, according to Denver Post records. Over that time, the earliest was Oct. 7 in 2009 and the latest was Oct. 28 in 2002, both at Loveland.

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