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Update: Precipitation headed to Southwest Colorado, but milder winter expected

Clouds open up long enough to show the snow covered La Plata Mountain on Oct. 1 east of Cortez. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)
A weaker La Niña likely will lead to a milder winter, though snow has already fallen in Southwest Colorado

While the glistening golds of fall have just started to drape the landscape of Southwest Colorado, weather updates on the coming months are here – and the Four Corners is slated for a milder winter, with periodic snow systems that come in waves.

Residents of Southwest Colorado might not have to prepare for winter storms until later in December and into January, according to AccuWeather’s 2021-2022 winter forecast, released Wednesday.

At that point, storms from the Northwest might carry precipitation to the Four Corners, delivering snow to ski resorts in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona.

Snow will likely fall in spells, rather than consistently, AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Paul Pastelok said Thursday.

“I don’t think it's going to turn out too bad in Colorado. I’m a little more concerned in Southwest Utah,” he said.

Late last week, snow fell in higher elevations of the Four Corners area, including in the La Plata Mountains east of Cortez.

Heavier snowfall has occurred in Alaska and British Columbia. But opensnow.com reiterated Monday that snow was expected to push south into the U.S. within two weeks. A trough of low pressure is dominating patterns in the West, likely leading to increased precipitation and lower temperatures.

La Niña is weaker this year, contributing to milder winter conditions. The long-term drought in the U.S. Southwest will likely only temporarily be eased by precipitation from winter storms – unless the wet season persists unusually long, the report said.

“We’re in a drought already as it is, even though it’s eased up a little bit here in Colorado, some places are still having some dry conditions,” Pastelok said. “If we don’t get the snow, then we can be reverting back into this again by next spring and summer.”

Pastelok said his team believes the ongoing drought will be weaker, although it will still remain a concern. He believes there is a chance the region will get normal snowfall to mitigate it. What ends up happening in the Northeast Pacific – and how that influences the storm track coming into the West Coast – will later help determine whether the winter season skews to more normal levels, he said.

”There will be some storms that come down to the Four Corners region, similar to what we saw last year – periods of time where it’s dry, periods of times when we do see some systems,“ he said Sept. 10. ”I don’t expect an exceptional year, but I do think that there could be some cold and there can be some snow from time to time.“

Some October storms would impact higher elevations, particularly in northern Colorado, he said.

Less snowpack is predicted throughout the northern Rockies. After experiencing its snowiest winter in 37 years last year, Denver’s snowfall should return to more normal levels, the report said.

Purgatory Resort and other ski resorts in the interior Southwest likely will benefit from the drop of winter storms from the Northwest to the Four Corners later in December, according to AccuWeather’s annual winter forecast. (File)
Fall forecast updates

The San Juan National Forest shifted the way it delivers its Fall Color Report, which describes color transformation of local fall leaves, and can be found at bit.ly/SJNFFallColorReport. Instead of using percentages, the report will now align with the language used in an interactive map from the Smoky Mountains. That map allows users to toggle between dates to see levels of projected fall foliage across the United States, and can be found at: https://smokymountains.com/fall-foliage-map/.

Leaf colors are classified as: no change, minimal, patchy, partial, near peak, peak or post-peak.

The updates as of Wednesday:

  • Durango to Purgatory: minimal.
  • Purgatory to Coal Bank: patchy.
  • Coal Bank to Molas Pass: partial.
  • Molas Pass to Silverton: near peak.
  • Silverton area: peaking.
  • Silverton to Red Mountain Pass: peaking.
  • Red Mtn Pass to Ouray: peaking.
  • Mancos Area: patchy.
  • Dolores to Rico: patchy.
  • Rico to Telluride: partial.
  • Telluride to Ouray (Dallas Divide): partial.
  • Pagosa Springs: patchy.
  • Missionary Ridge: near peak.
  • La Plata Canyon: minimal.