Mike Nelson's 2015 winter forecast: El Niño may mean a mild winter, but snows we do get may be huge

Typically El Niño blocks cold air from going south

DENVER - The El Niño pattern could mean a mild winter overall for the Denver area, but when snow comes, the storms could be record-setting.

Denver7 chief meteorologist Mike Nelson is forecasting six feet of snow for Denver for the winter, with one or two major snowstorms.

El Niño is a global weather cycle that takes shape when the Pacific Ocean warms near the equator. Typically El Niño blocks cold air from moving south and pushes soggy storms up from the Pacific, bringing heavier rain and snow to California and the southern Rockies.

Nelson expects the El Niño will mean fewer days with below-zero temperatures for the Denver area and more days with temperatures in the 40s throughout the winter. However, Nelson believes one or two storms will take a track that could dump several feet of snow on Denver and the mountains. Nelson expects those storms could hit in late November and in early March.

Some of Denver's most memorable blizzards came during El Niño winters. In 2003, more than 31 inches of snow piled up over three days in March, adding up to Denver's second-largest snow storm in recorded history. In 1982 and 2006, major storms over the Christmas holidays left people snow bound. And in October of 1997, stranded people had to be rescued by emergency responders because so much snow piled up.

In El Niño years, the late fall and early winter are often drier than average, typically leaving December through February without much snow. Overall Nelson forecasts this coming winter will be a good one for skiers and snowboarders, with big soggy storms in March and April building an above-average snow pack.

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