Colorado: A little snow history

Snowfall maps tell the tale of La Niña – El Niño cycles


SUMMIT COUNTY — Each year’s weather triggers discussions about past seasons, and without having exact statistics at hand, it’s easy to get mixed up about snowfall records or dry spells. Last year, for example, during the big La Niña snows, there was a lot of talk about the “snowiest winter ever” and a lot of hype. More on the ENSO cycle here.

It was a big year, for sure, and the snow fell late into the spring, but detailed month-to-month comparisons from previous seasons showed that it wasn’t quite the snowiest year ever, though some specific locations did set snowfall records, for example at A-Basin, which reported record April totals. Which brings up another point: Snowfall totals can vary greatly across just very short distances, based on local topography and other factors.

Similarly, this winter has already earned a reputation as the driest on record, and that’s not quite true, either, although it came pretty close. And again, some specific locations did report record low snowfall, so I suppose it depends in part on how and where you measure.

You could take the totals from all the official measuring stations across the state and add them all together to compare them to past years, but some of the locations have changed. Or you could specifically at one location to see how it compared to previous years. That’s why I check in with Rick Bly each month, who is the custodian of historic weather records going back more than 100 years.

But that ignores the geographic variability, so … what to do? It’s fun to speculate and debate the stats, and to add some fuel, here area a series of snowfall maps going back 10 years, showing the distribution of precipitation across the Plains, Front Range and western mountains of Colorado.

This winter, under a weak La Niña.
Last winter's strong La Niña delivered a bulls eye of snow across the north-central mountains.
2008 - 2009 brought a moderate El Niño.
2007-2008 started as a moderate La Niña and faded into neutral conditions.
2006-2007: El Niño.
2005-2006: El Niño.
2004-2005: El Niño.
2003-2004: Weak La Niña.
2002-2003: Moderate El Niño.
2001-2002 - The last big drought.

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