La Niña could mean warm, dry winter for New Mexico

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With only days left until Taos County's ski areas open, mountains peaks barely have a dusting of snow and most signs point toward a winter that's warmer and drier than usual thanks to La Niña.

"The bottom line is we have La Niña conditions developing in the Pacific, and that has a tendency to provide a warmer and direr winter season in New Mexico," said Brian Guyer, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque.

La Niña is global weather pattern caused by cool sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean. Though La Niña conditions don't hit the United States every year, last winter saw similar pattern.

"There was a similar forecast at the start of last season, but I remember some pretty good skiing some really good powder days," said John Paul Bradley, mountain manager at Sipapu Ski Resort in southern Taos County.

Sipapu has been making snow since Oct. 21, when forecasts were showing temperatures cold enough to open by early November. "That forecast fell apart," Bradley said, adding that the ski area is still looking to open this Saturday (Nov. 18).

Update: Sipapu pushed back its opening day.

Taos Ski Valley director of sales and marketing Sandy Chio told The Taos News Wednesday (Nov. 14), "we have our work cut out for us and need some cooler temperatures. We have been making snow over the past few weeks, working with the conditions best we can." TSV is scheduled to open the season Nov. 23.

Guyer said that in New Mexico, a weak La Niña can "be either wet and cool or warm and dry." Long-term models from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center are "trending" toward the latter conditions, Guyer said, with the polar jet stream -- meaning cooler weather and more moister -- generally staying north of the state.

The National Weather Service compared La Niña events since 1950. A "clear trend" showed that the last 10 La Nina winters "are no longer colder than average for much of the nation as they once were," according to a winter forecast from the agency.

Still, "in this kind of weather pattern, we do get cold outbreaks," Guyer said.

The National Weather Service forecast said precipitation data from previous years "suggests that the northern third of New Mexico stands the best chance of being near to slightly above average during a weak La Niña event," though model predictions for December, January and February shows precipitation in northern and central New Mexico will likely be slightly below average or near it.

Unusually warm temperatures throughout 2017 has made this year the second warmest on record, according to Guyer.

Though Guyer said the 10-day forecast doesn't show any "significant" chance of snow, there's a slight chance of precipitation Friday (Nov. 17) night -- right before the opening of Sipapu.

"This is a weather dependent industry and we're at the mercy of Mother Nature," said Bradley. "She can put us to shame with how well she can make snow. I'd love for her to show up."

As Taos Ski Valley suggests in a promotional video counting down the days until the slopes open -- #Prayforsnow.

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