Tuesday, January 17, 2006
Weather Phenomenon Could Cause Problems for Southern Colorado
By Robert Weller/
DENVER, Colo. Already parched by drought, southern Colorado could be denied much-needed snowfall for months to come because a strengthening La Nina weather pattern that usually pushes moisture to the northern and central Colorado mountains, forecasters said Tuesday.
Southern and southwestern Colorado mountains have between 34 and 47 percent of their average snowfall and are unlikely to catch up, they said.
''It can happen. But based on our current situation, local scale and large scale, probabilities of recovery are much lower this year,'' said Nolan Doesken, assistant state climatologist.
La Nina occurs when temperature changes in the Pacific Ocean push moisture-bearing storms north, sometimes into Canada.
Colorado is in a classic La Nina pattern now, with heavy snow in the north and central mountains, but dry conditions along the Front Range and in the South. Windy conditions also are sucking moisture from the ground and have helped spread several wildfires in the last month.
''La Nina is (this year) moderate in my book, and it looks like it is not going to go away; certainly not in the next one or two months. It sort of snuck up on us, which was very unusual, and now it looks pretty entrenched. That sort of anchors the storm track to the north,'' said Klaus Wolter of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The track has dumped snow on the northern and central ski resorts so far this winter, but left some southern areas with only a small fraction of their normal levels. Wolf Creek as of Tuesday had picked up 89 inches, compared with 268 inches on this date last year.
Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor for the federal Natural Resources Conservation service, said the good news is that last year's heavy southern snows left reservoirs mostly in good shape. Reservoirs in the extreme southwest are 111 percent of average, he said.
But officials have been saying for weeks that residents of southern Colorado should be planning for shortages, Gillespie added.
''Everybody is tired of hearing me say it, but the drought is not over. It just keeps moving around the state,'' he said.
The recent balmy weather may have contributed to at least three bears leaving hibernation across the state, said Tyler Baskfield, spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife.
Barb Timock of the U.S. Forest Service said fire managers held a conference call Tuesday and determined that the fire danger was considerably well advanced for this time of the year in southern Colorado.
''People get complacent when we get moisture. But we need a lot of moisture and day after day to really affect drought conditions or fire dangers,'' Timock said.
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