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Winter could be woolly

Expert predicts colder weather and more snow

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Utah is likely to have a more normal winter this year, with cooler weather and deeper snow than in the past three winters, one of the country's top experts says.

The prediction by Ants Leetmaa, who is the chief of the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Camp in Camp Springs, Md., should be good news for ski resorts.

Visitors to the state's ski resorts were down last year because of the skimpy snow. If Leetmaa is right and this coming winter is better, she said, that will have the added benefit of showing off the state's potential for the 2002 Winter Games.

"I think that's great news," said Tracie Cayford, communications director for the Utah Travel Council, Salt Lake City. "We're very excited for the upcoming ski season."

She said the world is going to be looking to Utah after the Summer Games in Sydney, Australia, "and so we would like to put our best foot forward this ski season and give people a taste of what it's going to be like in Utah's ski resorts in 2002."

Asked for his feelings about weather during Salt Lake City's 2002 Winter Games, Leetmaa said, "That's too far (away) to say."

The reason for this winter's forecasted change is that the weather pattern called La Nina is rapidly fading and giving way to a neutral pattern that is neither La Nina nor El Nino, Leetmaa said.

Leetmaa, in Utah for a meeting of state climatologists, briefed reporters Tuesday at the Weather Service regional office. He said the past three winters were exceptionally mild, but the country would see cooler patterns this fall and winter.

However, in much of the country, conditions will remain warmer than normal. That will be especially true in the southern half of the United States, he said.

Recently, Utah and Nevada have experienced the hottest weather in 105 years of records. That is because a high-pressure ridge, probably the result of the La Nina global weather pattern, is stationed over the region. The ridge should disappear as La Nina fades out.

As La Nina wanes, no weather models show an immediate shift into the El Nino conditions that can bring brutal storms. However, the Pacific Northwest typically weathers big winter storms in neutral years.

By contrast, he said, in Southern California often "the major flooding events are related to El Nino."

Often, the neutral period is one year before an El Nino. But the cautious Leetmaa would not offer any predictions that far in advance.

E-mail: bau@desnews.com