EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - Good timing can sometimes fool us into believing something is better than it really is. That seems to be the case with this year's snowpack.
While the storms that have come have been well-timed for skiers - and conditions are almost universally described as "good" - the fact is that the Vail Valley, along with the rest of the upper Colorado River Basin, remains in an "extreme" drought, as defined by the National Integrated Drought Information System.
Whether that pattern breaks is anyone's guess. Joel Gratz, the Rocky Mountain-area meteorologist for www.OpenSnow.com, doesn't forecast more than several days in advance, leaving the long-range work to climatologists.
Gratz said he expects some snow Feb. 26 and 27. After that, warmer, drier weather will follow for the first few days of March.
"Next week, the models are hinting at (some snow), but we don't know how much," Gratz said.
Beyond just snowfall, Gratz said good snow for skiing requires a bit more from the weather this time of year, primarily because of the angle of the sun.
"To get good, soft snow (in March), you need a day or two of cooler air and clouds," Gratz said. Without that, fresh snow one day can get crusty soon, depending on how much sun follows the clouds.
Gratz is in the business of forecasting incoming storms, and how much snow those storms might bring. But forecasters at the National Weather Service aren't getting much long-term information, either.
Dennis Phillips, a meteorologist the National Weather Service's Grand Junction office, said his agency's models are showing about the same pattern Gratz sees over the next couple of weeks - a bit of snow early this week, then several days of dry, warmer weather into next week.
"We'll probably see a few inches, and that's about it for a while," Phillips said.
The weather service's climate specialists aren't in the business of forecasting specific storms, focusing instead on more global weather trends. Phillips said those trends aren't particularly encouraging, with the one-month forecast for the southwestern U.S. showing a slight chance of drier-than-normal weather in what's supposed to be a snowy month.
Phillips said snow in March and April doesn't generally build mountain snowpack, but those storms do bring water that helps fill streams and reservoirs.
In the Vail Valley, we depend on streamflow almost exclusively for summer water supplies. Streamflow depends on melting snow, and that snow melted quickly last year, due to an early, warm spring that had virtually no precipitation.
Diane Johnson, the communications and public affairs manager for the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, said the district obviously has a close eye on current conditions. In addition, officials are studying the district's strategies to last year's drought, trying to find ways to better deal with the potential of lower-than-normal streamflows.
"But it's all about how (the snowmelt) unfolds," Johnson said. "We'll just have to take whatever comes."
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.