Maya Rodriguez --- 9NEWS
KUSA- It's a phenomenon that takes place thousands of miles away, but has the potential to cause heavy snow in Denver. Earlier this year, scientists predicted "El Nino" would be strong this year. That didn't happen right away, but it's picking up steam again.
El Nino is a warming of the sea surface temperature in the Pacific Ocean, and along with it, a change in wind patterns and the jet stream. That usually means more moisture for the southern half of the United States, but in Colorado it could have other effects too.
For a state that's grappled this year with heavy snow in the mountains and a severe drought in the plains, it sometimes seemed like Colorado's weather had a split personality. With an El Nino now predicted to strengthen in the Pacific, Colorado's winter could look different, depending on your elevation.
"When I think of El Nino, it's giving us a little bit to hang our hats on in the very challenging world of trying to make seasonal climate predictions," said Nolan Doesken, state climatologist for Colorado and part of the Colorado Climate Center at CSU.
Doesken said El Ninos don't create a certainty for what the weather might bring in the future, but historically, they do show patterns.
"El Nino tips the odds a little bit towards certain factors dominating more often than 'usual,'" he said.
One example: snowfall.
Years where there have been strong El Ninos have also seen major snowstorms in the Denver metro area. Out of the top ten snowstorm totals ever recorded in Denver, four of them happened in El Nino years.
El Nino Years Denver Snow Totals
2) Mar. 17, 2003 31.8"
4) Dec. 24, 1982 23.8"
7) Oct. 24, 1997 21.9"
8) Nov. 26, 1983 21.5"
"The stronger the El Nino, the more likely we are to have some big fall and winter storms at lower elevations," Doesken said.
Yet, the opposite can be true in the northern and central mountains, where a strong El Nino historically means less snow there.