According to the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), this El Niño season is brewing up to be a big one. Here in Colorado, El Niños usually mean one thing; more snow than usual. 

However, what NCAR noted that this particular year has the potential for a super El Niño, which are more infrequent than regular ones. In the past, super El Niños have increased snowfalls even more than their regular counterparts. 

Before we dive into how the super El Niño can affect Colorado’s snowfall this winter, let’s get more acquainted with El Niños as a weather phenomena. 

El Niños Are Created When the Water in the Pacific Ocean is Abnormally Warm


By having warmer than usual surface temperatures on the Pacific Ocean, particularly within the eastern tropical region of the ocean off the coast of Central and South America. In normal circumstances, a process called upwelling brings cooler waters to the surface to even out temperatures. However, during El Niño, westward blowing trade winds weaken, which brings more warm water east. 

In the eastern and western Pacific, the effects can be devastating. In Central and South America, heavily increased rainfall has led to extreme coastal flooding. In Australia, severe drought can happen. 

However, in the United States, the Pacific Jet Stream intensifies, bringing in much more wet air into the atmosphere that can heavily impact Southern parts of the country. For Colorado, however, this usually means more snowfall than usual. 

Why Could This El Niño Be Stronger Than Ones We’ve Seen in the Past? 


For all intents and purposes, a super El Niño is just a stronger version of the same phenomena. NCAR estimates water temperature averages in the Pacific to increase 2.4 degrees celsius in December, January, and February.

This prediction is higher than other El Niño predicting models that are more traditionally used. While NCAR’s approach is more experimental, similar concerns have also been echoed by NOAA. They predict there is a 75-85% chance of a strong El Niño to occur this winter. 

What Could a Super El Niño Mean For Snowfall in Colorado This Winter? 


While it is worth noting that no two El Niños are exactly the same, the last time there was a super El Niño in the winter of 2015-2016, it brought with it greatly increased snowfall. 

 Using Fort Collins as the basis, the average annual snowfall for the city is 51.4 inches. However, during the last super El Niño, there was a total of 72.8 inches of snow. Not only is that a number you are more likely to see on the east coast, but it is a total increase of 21.4 inches of snow over the average. 

Even if we can’t exactly predict the future, it is still important to be prepared. Now may be a better time than ever to get ready mentally for shoveling snow and worse driving. 

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