Vail Valley snowpack slips in sunshine, but still above 30-year median
March 20, 2017
The forecast for Vail
Today: Slight chance of showers early, then sunny, with a high around 55 and low of 32.
Wednesday: Mostly sunny, then a slight chance of showers, with a high of 54 and low of 32.
Thursday: A chance of snow showers before 1 p.m., then a chance of rain and snow showers. High, 48; low, 26.
Friday: Snow likely before 7 a.m. High near 43; low, 22.
Saturday: Mostly cloudy, slight chance of showers. High near 51; low, 28.
Sunday: Chance of snow showers. High near 42.
Source: National Weather Service.
EAGLE COUNTY — March and April are usually the snowiest months in the Vail Valley. That hasn't been the case so far this year, but changes are coming.
After a warm, sunny start to March, Western Colorado may start to return to a more seasonal weather pattern this week.
Jim Pringle, a forecaster at the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, said we could start to see those changes by Wednesday or Thursday of this week. That initial storm system could bring as much as an inch of precipitation to some parts of the Western Slope, Pringle said, adding that Vail's moisture total won't approach the peaks.
Most of the moisture from the mid-week storm is expected to fall in the higher elevations of the San Juan Mountains and the Grand Mesa.
Still, a quarter-inch of precipitation could bring a few inches of new snow, at least at higher elevations.
The big change is set to come Friday, when the forecast brings snow and rain to virtually the entire state.
Moisture will be especially welcome east of the Continental Divide. Wildfires have started to hit that part of the state, and the U.S. Drought Monitor website shows moderate drought conditions through essentially all of Eastern Colorado.
Pringle said that Friday storm could bring several inches of snow to the Vail area.
Cooler temps welcome
That snow will be welcome, both for play and our summer's water supply.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's graphs of snow water equivalent in the area show snowpack is still running significantly ahead of the 30-year median, thanks to plentiful snow from early December into February. But some of the snow measurement sites have shown erosion of the snowpack.
The biggest drop in the past week has been at the snow measurement site on Vail Mountain. That site has changed in the past couple of years. The measurement devices are in the same spot, but the trees that once sheltered the equipment are gone, leaving the site exposed to sun and wind.
The sun, along with daytime high temperatures well into the 40s, has eaten into the snow water equivalent at the Vail site. Snow at the site contained roughly 20.3 inches of water as of March 13. That number had fallen to 16.8 inches on Monday.
The story is better at Fremont Pass, near the Eagle River's headwaters. There, the snow water equivalent at the measurement site remained constant at 15.7 inches between March 13 and Monday.
The snow fields on Vail Mountain, near Vail Pass and near Fremont Pass all serve as the area's water storage. Lots of snow and a slow runoff season are critical to maintain domestic water supplies.
At the moment, there's a solid supply of water in all that snow.
But in an email, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District Communications Manager Diane Johnson wrote, "These warm temperatures need to go!"
Change in the pattern?
That could happen in the coming weeks.
While the National Weather Service only provides seven-day forecasts, the service's computer models shows a return to more seasonal weather patterns in the coming few weeks.
"The models show we're in a pattern that will continue until further notice," Pringle said. "We have another storm coming in Monday from the west."
How long that pattern lasts is anyone's guess, of course. Still, the climate.gov website's spring climate prediction calls for a chance of warmer-than-normal temperatures. The chance of precipitation for the season is listed at even, meaning there's a good chance for average levels of rain and snowfall.
But, for the rest of the week at least, we can expect cooler temperatures, and at least some snow. It might be a little difficult for Front Range residents coming Friday for a ski weekend, but Sunday travel should be, well, OK, especially once travelers are clear of the Eisenhower-Johnson Tunnels.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, email@example.com and @scottnmiller.