La Nina forever

For all of us who have endured the clichéd phrase, “If you don’t like the weather in Colorado, just wait five minutes,” this is going to come as good news and bad news. 

Let’s start with the bad: all signs indicate we’re going into the third year in a row of La Niña, which likely means more dry and hot conditions. The good: you won’t have to hear that annoying phrase anymore and force a polite chuckle.

Recently, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center said there is about a 65% likelihood we will stay in the La Niña weather pattern this upcoming winter. Notably, there’s only one other time on record, in the mid-1970s, when the region endured three years of La Niña in a row. 

“It’s not good news,” Peter Goble, a climatologist for CSU’s Colorado Climate Center, said. “But it’s not damning, either.” 

La Niña and its counterpart, El Niño, are opposing weather patterns that can have global impacts on weather. Ocean surface temperatures in the Pacific, which dictate trade wind conditions, usually determine which cycle we’re in. Typically, El Niño brings wetter conditions to the Southwest; La Niña drier. 

Weather researchers had predicted La Niña was going to pack up this spring, and things would shift toward neutral conditions. Not only did that not pan out, climate models now suggest the weather pattern is sticking around.

 “This pushes the jet stream north but also has the effect of blocking the Southwest’s access to Pacific moisture,” Goble said. “This is not a permanent feature during La Niña but does show up with greater regularity during La Niña.” 

Indeed, much debate has been had on El Niño/La Niña and their true impact on weather. Still, it seems the consensus is these cycles simply mean an increased probability of the associated conditions. So, it’s not set in stone we’ll have a dry winter, but the chances are higher than normal. 

Plus, we’re kind of in uncharted territory, because there’s only one other example of a La Niña three-peat. During that time, Colorado’s ski slopes were bare and reservoirs were empty. But we’re optimists, and we like to remember the ’70s as happier times of roller disco and Hamburger Helper.

“It’s a rare thing,” Brianna Vealo, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said. “But honestly, it’s a tossup. La Niña can get really weird in western Colorado.” 

Still, it seems like we’re going to have to come up with a new phrase, maybe: “If you don’t like the weather in Colorado, move.” 

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