Area snowpack OK this year, but Vail Mountain at 62 percent of average
EAGLE COUNTY — It’s been an odd winter for snow. The good news is that even with an abnormally dry March and April, area snowpack is still strong — with a notable exception.
First, the strength. Snowpack, as measured by amount of water in that snow, is near, or slightly above, the 30-year historic averages at measurement sites at Copper Mountain and Fremont Pass. Those are the sites nearest to the top of Vail Pass and the east fork of the Eagle River, respectively.
The notable exception is on Vail Mountain. That measurement site sits at a lower elevation than the Copper Mountain and Fremont Pass sites. The terrain around the site has also changed, with the site now in an open area susceptible to blowing snow.
Still, the Vail Mountain site on Thursday sat at 62 percent of the average snowpack for Thursday. The peak snowpack recording at that site also came much earlier than usual.
On average, the Vail Mountain site’s snowpack peaks April 25. This year, the peak reading came six weeks earlier, in early March. Snowpack at that site has been falling ever since, with a steep drop coming in the first three weeks of April.
That’s somewhat worrisome. The good news, though, is the snowpack at the higher elevations.
Eagle River Water & Sanitation District Communications and Public Affairs Manager Diane Johnson said that Vail Mountain is only part of the district’s water supply. Snow fields on Black Gore Creek and on the east fork of the Eagle provide a good bit of the district’s supply.
The district uses the snow in those areas as its supply reservoirs for the entire year. Most of the district’s water comes from local streams.
Vail Mountain’s snowpack isn’t great news, Johnson said. On the other hand, recent cool, wet weather has delayed further melting at the Vail Mountain measurement site.
If that pattern holds, then the melt-out might see some significant delay.
Our current weather pattern looks as if it’s going to hold, at least for a while.
Tom Renwick, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction office, said there’s currently a high pressure system west of Colorado. That system is allowing a flow of cool, moist air from the northwest to slip into the state.
That high is expected to move east toward the middle of the coming week, bringing clear skies and warm temperatures back to the area.
But, Renwick said, it’s likely the area will slip back into the cool, moist pattern again heading into the second week of May.
Mixed bag of Weather
Weather forecasters don’t look out more than 10 days or so. But the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center is showing a possibly mixed bag of weather for May, June and July.
The temperature model shows a 50 percent chance of warmer-than-average temperatures in the Eagle area. Meanwhile, the broader precipitation model shows a 40 percent chance of greater-than-average rainfall for the same period.
For the near term, though, Renwick said the dry, warm weather we had starting in February could pay some dividends. That warmer pattern allowed enough melting in the snowpack that flooding isn’t too likely for the upper elevations.
Even with that, Johnson said the area’s snowpack probably equates to adequate water supplies through the summer.
Of course, a week of high temperatures, or 10 days of steady snowfall up high, could change all of those projections.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, email@example.com and @scottnmiller.
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