Preparing for El Nino

The north facade of McGuckin Hardware during an El Nino year

The north facade of McGuckin Hardware the morning after our most recent snowstorm.

What has Colorado learned about El Nino in the records dating back more than 60 years?

According to NOAA, it can be something of a dice roll whether or not Colorado gets hammered with snow during an El Nino winter. That said, the probability is good that we’ll see at least an average amount of snowfall, and most likely more.

“El Nino” is a warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean occurring every 3 to 7 years and effecting the weather of almost every place on earth. Scientists are expecting this year’s event to be compared with the 1997-98 event, in which steady continual “wet falls” contributed to more precipitation than usual.

Of 13 recorded El Nino events in Colorado since 1950, 11 of them have produced average to above-average snowfall to Colorado, and five of them rank in Colorado’s top 10 snowiest winters.

It’s hard to predict El Nino events, given how Colorado’s diverse terrain interacts with global weather patterns. We could have a regular scattering of small storms, a couple huge accumulations, or even a mild winter with a below-average snowfall. Because El Nino tends to bring the storm path further south in the continental US, the San Juan Mountains and Four Corners area tend to see more snowfall than the northern ranges. The Front Range, being an upslope however, also has the potential to harbor some monstrous storms.

So, if you’re banking on history, expect to deal with some snow banks this winter. What should you do to prepare?

We asked our team of Green Vests that same question:

The city and county of Boulder also had some tips to share for when the white stuff starts flying:

  • When it snows and you have to commute via car, stick to the routes the snowplows will be working hard to clear. The City of Boulder’s snow route map prioritizes (in purple) the plowing of main roads and (in blue) the plowing of secondary roads and side streets. CDOT (in red) is responsible for clearing all highways.
  • Boulder County’s snow route map separates roads into three classes of priority for plowing, with high priority roads (in green), “Priority 2 Roads,” (in blue) and “Priority 3 Roads” (in red). For snow route info in all other Colorado areas, click here.
  •  If you live in the City of Boulder and do not have an HOA membership, pay attention to the sidewalks after it snows! “Boulder property owners, landlords and tenants are responsible to make it clear by removing snow and ice from their sidewalks within 24 hours after snow stops falling, based on the official snowfall report from the National Weather Service.” The city enforces this code and issues fines and/or an abatement (including calling in a private snow removal contractor to clear the sidewalk at the resident’s expense). For elderly or disabled residents who may have trouble clearing their walks, Boulder County CareConnect offers the IceBusters program, which is run through volunteers.
  • For bicycle commuters within the city, snow crews will plow multi-use paths at the same time as first and second priority roads.
  • Get more details of Boulder’s snow and ice removal policies here.
  • Watch a video recap of Boulder’s snow and ice removal policies from Channel 8 news:

Have specific questions about product, or need advice? Ask a Green Vest.