Breckenridge Daily Snow

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By Sam Collentine, Meteorologist Posted 4 months ago October 3, 2023

2023-2024 Breckenridge Winter Forecast Preview

Summary

Welcome back! As we look ahead to the 2023-2024 winter season, it's important to remember that any winter outlook will contain an inherent degree of uncertainty. However, there are a few clues...

Update

Welcome back to the Breckenridge Daily Snow!

As we look ahead to the 2023-2024 winter season, it's important to remember that any winter outlook will contain an inherent degree of uncertainty. However, there are a few clues that we can keep an eye on thanks to everyone's favorite weather phenomenon: El Niño.

For the upcoming winter season, an El Niño looks to be in store, and better yet, current sea surface temperatures are showing a strengthening El Niño event.

El Niño, Explained

The term El Niño refers to the large-scale ocean-atmosphere climate phenomenon linked to periodic warming in sea-surface temperatures across the central and east-central equatorial Pacific.

El Niño represents the warm phase of the ENSO cycle and means that the ocean water temperatures are warmer than average.

Ski Season Snowfall vs. El Niño

The map below shows winter snowfall during seven significant El Niño episodes across the United States. The higher the number, the stronger the El Niño. The blue dots are above average, the white dots are average, and the orange dots are below average snowfall.

The relationship tends to be a mixed bag for El Niño and snowfall in Colorado with most of the state close to average precip and temps during the winter months.

Historical El Niño Seasons @ Breckenridge Ski Resort

After looking back at the seven most recent significant El Niño years and comparing them against the 30-year median snow water equivalent (SWE) on March 31 of 15.0 inches at the nearby Hoosier Pass SNOTEL station, I've found that the median SWE during those El Niño years is 14.4 inches on March 31 or 96% compared to the 30-year normal.

SWE on March 31 During El Niño

  • 1991-2020: 15.0" (30-year normal)
  • 1982-1983: 11.7"
  • 1986-1987: 17.1"
  • 1991-1992: 14.5"
  • 1997-1998: 14.1"
  • 2002-2003: 14.4"
  • 2009-2010: 13.8"
  • 2015-2016: 15.4"

Two out of the seven El Niño years produced above-normal snow water equivalent (SWE) on March 31.

For timing, there's an interesting signal when looking at the change in SWE each month during the seven most recent significant El Niño episodes and comparing them against the 30-year median change in SWE for that month.

  • October: 2.0" (118%)
  • November: 3.0" (120%)
  • December: 1.4" (61%)
  • January: 2.1" (78%)
  • February: 2.1" (95%)
  • March: 3.6" (100%)
  • April: 0.4" (25%)

It tends to be that the shoulder seasons are above normal, while the winter months are below normal.

For another nearby site, looking back at the seven most recent significant El Niño years and comparing them against the 30-year median snow water equivalent (SWE) on March 31 of 14.6 inches at the Copper Mountain SNOTEL station, I've found that the median SWE during those El Niño years is 13.7 inches on March 31 or 94% compared to the 30-year normal.

SWE on March 31 During El Niño

  • 1991-2020: 13.7" (30-year normal)
  • 1982-1983: 14.5"
  • 1986-1987: 10.9"
  • 1991-1992: 13.0"
  • 1997-1998: 13.7"
  • 2002-2003: 16.5"
  • 2009-2010: 11.2"
  • 2015-2016: 14.8"

Three out of the seven El Niño years produced above-normal snow water equivalent (SWE) on March 31.

For timing, we find the same signal when looking at the change in SWE each month during the seven most recent significant El Niño episodes and comparing them against the 30-year median change in SWE for that month.

  • October: 1.1" (122%)
  • November: 3.0" (120%)
  • December: 1.6" (62%)
  • January: 1.9" (63%)
  • February: 1.9" (68%)
  • March: 3.4" (121%)
  • April: 1.2" (109%)

It tends to be that the shoulder seasons are above normal, while the winter months are below normal.

2015-2016 El Niño Season

The most recent El Niño in 2015-16 produced above-normal snowfall at Breckenridge.

Overall, history tells us that Breckenridge tends to be right around normal for snowfall during El Niño events, with the potential for a stronger start and end to the season.

Having said all of this, for skiers and snowboarders, keep in mind that when it comes to finding the best conditions, it’s all about timing. To have the best chance of enjoying the deepest powder, our recommendation is to book a trip 7-10 days in advance.

Sometimes, longer-range forecasts can identify possible storms 1-2 weeks (or longer) in advance, but often, forecast confidence in the details of each storm only begins to increase when the system is about one week away or closer.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned!

Sam Collentine

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About Our Forecaster

Sam Collentine

Meteorologist

Sam Collentine is the Chief Operating Officer of OpenSnow and lives in Basalt, Colorado. Before joining OpenSnow, he studied Atmospheric Science at the University of Colorado, spent time at Channel 7 News in Denver, and at the National Weather Service in Boulder.

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