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March’s ski season may be great. Or it could be terrible. Meteorologists honestly don’t know.

National Weather Service said it’s not an El Nino or La Nina year but a “La Nada”

A family enjoys a powder day at Copper Mountain. Copper and Breckenridge set new records for February snowfall this year. (Curtis DeVore, provided by Copper Mountain)
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On Monday, Breckenridge resort passed the 300-inch mark for snowfall this season. Steamboat got there on Tuesday, while others in the northern and central mountains have been reporting similarly staggering accumulations in February.

Greedy skiers naturally want to know if that will continue, especially since we hear annually from the TV weather folks that March is our snowiest month, but forecasters are saying it could go either way.

If that sounds incredibly obvious, don’t roll your eyes (and you know you did). The 30-day forecast issued last week by the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center suggests there is an “equal” chance of above, normal or below-normal precipitation for Colorado in March. The same report said there is an equal chance of above, normal or below-normal temperatures in western Colorado, while eastern Colorado is more likely to experience below-normal temperatures.

Greg Hanson, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in Boulder, looks at those forecasts and calls our March mountain weather “a coin toss.” This is because it’s not an El Nino year, nor is it a La Nina year. In an El Nino year, when surface waters in the equatorial Pacific are relatively warmer, southern Colorado typically gets better snow. In La Nina years, when those surface temperatures are relatively cooler, northern Colorado usually does better.

Hanson jokingly called this a “La Nada” year.

“Those longer-range forecasts tend to go along with the El Nino/La Nina cycle, and this year, we’re neutral,” Hanson said. “Taking El Nino/La Nina out, it goes to smaller-scale climate features — other patterns in the oceans and the atmosphere that usually El Nino would overshadow. Since there isn’t one, these other ones have more prominence. There’s really no clear signal that emerges on these neutral events, as far as being greatly above or below (normal).”

In late January, for example, Hanson said forecasters realized they need to be prepared for “a busier February.”

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Snowfall reporting stations in the northern and central mountains have seen some of the heaviest accumulations in many years, including Echo Lake, Berthoud Pass, Jones Pass, Copper Mountain, Vail and the Steamboat region. The southern mountains haven’t been as fortunate.

“I think it is easy to summarize that the central mountains, the I-70 corridor and northern Colorado have seen the true benefit of snowstorms in February,” said Brian Domonkos, Colorado snow survey supervisor for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The short-term forecast for ski areas in the northern and central mountains looks good. Hanson predicts periodic light to moderate snowfall over the next week to 10 days.

“We’re still in an overall ridge over the eastern Pacific. We’ve got northwest flow, so any moisture that comes in, it will be a northwest track,” Hanson said. “We won’t get that deeper ribbon of moisture, but still these types of flows when we get everything coming down from the Pacific Northwest, we can get fairly frequent light additions to our snowpack. I’m seeing nothing that would shut things down to a January pattern, where we were really dry. I don’t see anything like that.”

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