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Does El Niño mean big snow for Colorado?

A typical El Niño will flip Colorado snow upside down, favoring the south.

The prospect of an El Niño this winter has some ski resorts salivating, but is there really a correlation between El Niño and snow?

Climate scientist and avid skier John Fasullo said: "Yes, there is."

Fasullo studies climate oscillations like El Niño at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder. When he realized it could be an El Niño winter, he started combing through the data.

“Well it certainly directed my attention to the southern resorts in Colorado, places like Telluride, also New Mexico, if you go to Taos. Wolf Creek, those areas are much more likely to see better snowfalls,” Fasullo said.

That would mean a total reversal from last winter, when La Niña left the south bone dry.

Fasullo said it is typical of El Niño to give southern Colorado high chances at above-average snow and higher chances for northern Colorado to get below average snow, while the central part of the state is less affected.

El Niño patterns develop when water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, near the equator, warm above average, and La Niña is cooler than average.

Fasullo said that not all El Niños and La Niñas are exactly alike, but their impacts are consistent enough that skiers can benefit from knowing the data.

He said buying a ski pass that has a good spread of resorts from north to south is the best bet.

“That helps you hedge your bet -- that you can choose which resort you want to go to," Fasullo said. "If you can do that, likely the chances are that you’re going to find some good powder."

He added that last year was painful for skiers -- he blames La Niña. There is no guarantee of El Niño this season (a 70 percent chance), but even a neutral winter should be better than last year.

“One of the real takeaways for this upcoming season is that we know it will not be a La Niña event. There’s below a 10 percent probability of La Nina,” Fasullo said.

He would love a big-time snow year, but even getting back to average is good for Colorado. The state spent all of last winter with below average snowpack.

“An average year of skiing is always a good year,” Fasullo said.