Wintertime in Rocky Mountain National Park is always a bit of a crap shoot for photographers. Every winter season varies greatly from the previous seasons weather. This can be both a good thing for photographers or not such a great thing. Two variables play a large part in determining how productive the winter season in Rocky Mountain National Park will be. Snowfall is one, and wind is the other. Both of these often occur at the same time and can be a boon or bust for photographers looking to capture winter scenes in Rocky.
With a strong El Nino weather pattern affecting western half of the United States, the weather in Rocky this winter has been interesting and varied from the last winter season. We’ve had some good snows on the eastern side of the park but the much of the effect of the El Nino pattern seems to be having its greatest impact on the wind patterns. From my non-scientific observations, the one constant this season has been the wind and constant is the operative word.
I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been out in the field this season in Rocky and have not be accompanied by a stiff breeze. Of course for those of you who visit Rocky Mountain National Park often, me telling you its a windy place is nothing you don’t already know. It’s just that this season seems to be particularly more windy then the previous few winters.
While we have had lots of wind, it seems we have had less opportunities for clouds in the skies resulting in good sunrise and sunsets this season. Often high winds mean lenticular clouds will form in the sky over the tops of the mountains. For whatever reason, lenticular clouds seem to be accompanying the high winds less often than previous seasons. These lenticular cloud formations often make for great photography subjects in Rocky, even if the winds are howling.
When clouds have been present this season they have formed along the tops of the mountains along the continental divide. This is a common occurrence during the winter months in Rocky. When large storms from the Pacific make it to Colorado, the western side of the park gets the snow and the eastern half of Rocky gets the winds and clouds obscuring the tops of the peaks.
So far this winter season has been a challenge to photograph. Even so there are still many opportunities out there for photographers, especially if one can tolerate being blown around while trying to keep their camera steady. With springtime rapidly approaching, we should see some good size late winter, early spring snowstorms in Rocky. We may also see the what seems like daily high winds abate slightly and the pattern change to one thats a little more favorable for photographers.
This is mostly speculation on my part but based on previous El Nino seasons, I’m hopeful for some really great conditions as we move into the later half of winter. Even if the pattern remains the same gluttons for punishment can still take advantage of the windy conditions to create some interesting imagery even amongst the winds, blowing snows and cold.