We hear so much about El Niño and La Niña weather systems, but what do they mean for the ski resorts? OnTheSnow has done the research for you, and you’ll be happy to know that in years past La Niña has been good to the Rocky Mountains. It could be especially good for [R1435R, Silverton Mountain].
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) El Niño and La Niña are the two counterparts in what's called the Southern Oscillation. Sometimes shortened to just ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation), this weather system refers to the cyclical warming and cooling of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. El Niño is the name for warm episodes, and La Niña is the name for cold episodes.
Atmospheric Scientist Klaus Wolter of University of Colorado at Boulder and NOAA explains that El Niño and La Niña provide precipitation to opposite parts of the state of Colorado. Typically El Niño benefits the southern part of the state while La Niña heads north to provide above-average moisture to the northern half of the state.
The unique location of Silverton Mountain enables the resort to benefit from both systems regardless of its southern Colorado location. According to the resort's Web site, La Niña could be just what the doctor ordered for southern Colorado powder hounds.
"The nice thing about Silverton Mountain is that we normally sit right in the middle of the forecast zone split,” Silverton’s Aaron Brill explains. This means on an El Niño year we are many times forecasted for equal or better chances of above average precipitation, and typically the same goes for La Niña years.
Brill says Silverton is located within its own microclimate enhanced by the Uncompahgre Gorge which pumps in extremely localized storms to Silverton Mountain, and a few other local areas, while neighboring peaks just a mile away may get skunked. There have been La Niña and El Niño years at Silverton Mountain with over 500 inches of snow thanks to our microclimate.
You may also be interested in Southwest Editor Andy Dennison's story about the potential effects of La Niña.