La Niña is looking less likely, and that’s probably OK for Colorado snowfall

4 inches of snow last night and over 2 feet of snow in the last 7 days. It's a good day to be in Vail. (Connor Walberg/Snow Snow/Flickr)winter vail; skiing; snow; mountain; winter;

The return of La Niña, the weather cycle, is looking less likely. We may be better off without it, at least in terms of skiing conditions, but we can’t be totally sure.

First, the background:

I won’t get too far into the weeds, but La Niña is the inverse of El Niño. When it happens, sea temperatures in the Pacific are cooler rather than warmer.

We spent last winter under El Niño conditions, and Colorado saw quite a lot of snow. Matt Kelsch, a weather researcher in Boulder, found that snowstorms tend to be larger but not necessarily more frequent during El Niño in Colorado. The Weather Channel also found that Colorado’s snowiest winters have happened during El Niño.

OK, so, El Niño good, La Niña bad?

Not necessarily.

Weather5280’s Brian Bledsoe notes that La Niña brought drought to eastern Colorado in 2007, and yet that winter had “huge” snowpack. The effect in the mountains isn’t necessarily the same as the effect in other parts of the state.

La Niña seems to bring more snowfall to the northern third of the country, and less to the south, as Colorado State University research scientist Philip Klotzbach told 9News in June. Colorado stands right at the border of the two zones, making it hard to predict La Niña’s effects here, Klotzbach said, describing the phenomenon’s local impacts as “marginal.” has a pretty extensive analysis of the correlations between the different cycles and decades of snowfall at 100-plus ski resorts. The site found that most Colorado mountains were pretty indifferent to both Niño and Niña, including Winter Park, Aspen and Loveland.

Meanwhile, Steamboat Springs in northwestern Colorado reportedly has fared well during La Niña. No Colorado resorts made the site’s list of El Niño favorites.

Let’s just split the difference.

I’m not a huge fan of decisions, so I always choose the combo plate at restaurants. It’s looking like I’ll also be blessed with that sweet neutral zone for this year’s weather too.

While meteorologists previously rated La Niña as pretty likely for this year, they’re now downgrading its changes. Sea temperatures are indeed cooling, but the winds aren’t strong enough over the Pacific.

Long story short, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has literally taken down its La Niña Watch. NOAA’s now saying that a “neutral” winter – neither Niño nor Niña – is most likely.

Good, good. Play it down the middle.

But what’s it all mean?

There are innumerable factors at play. While we like to break things down into simple binaries, our lives are in fact constantly buffeted by strange and enormous forces that we may never understand, much less control. Another example is presidential politics.

Andrew Kenney

Author: Andrew Kenney

Andrew Kenney writes about public spaces, Denver phenomena and whatever else. He previously worked for six years as a reporter at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. His most prized possession is his collection of bizarre voicemail. Leave him one at 303-502-2803, or email