‘Atmospheric river’ puts Eagle County under a winter storm watch this week | VailDaily.com

‘Atmospheric river’ puts Eagle County under a winter storm watch this week

Winter weather forecast for Tuesday through Thursday

Another snowstorm is forecast for the Vail Valley this week. A good storm could push Vail's total snowfall over 300 inches for the season.
John LaConte/Vail Daily archive
Watch or warning? Tom Renwick, a forecaster in the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, said the difference between a weather “watch” and weather “warning” is a matter of degree. Renwick said a watch is when forecasters are 50% confident that a weather event is coming. A warning is when that confidence level rises to 75%. The coming storm is still at the watch level.

Get ready for more snow.

The National Weather Service Monday issued a winter storm watch for an area that includes Aspen, Hahn’s Peak and, of course, Vail.

The watch issued by the National Weather Service runs from Tuesday evening until Thursday afternoon. The watch calls for the possibility of heavy snow, primarily over higher elevations. As an example, Tom Renwick, a forecaster with the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, said areas of the Flat Tops could see as much as 18 inches of snow. Gypsum, on the other hand, is expected to see less than a half inch of accumulation.

The forecasters at OpenSnow.com are predicting as much as 11 inches of new snow for Vail between March 16 and March 22. That would push Vail Mountain’s seasonal accumulation over the 300-inch mark.

All those forecasts are just best guesses, of course.

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Renwick said the storm this week will be yet more leftovers from the atmospheric river storms that are causing havoc over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In addition to the atmospheric river, Renwick said a low-pressure system coming in from the southwest could squeeze yet more moisture from that flow. If the storm hits full force, wind-driven snow could again foul travel plans over higher elevations.

In addition to the mid-week storm, Renwick said yet another storm could be coming sometime during the weekend and into early next week.

Another storm or few will help the Vail Valley’s healthy snowpack.

As of Monday, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District published a graph of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Snotel site on Vail Mountain. That graph showed 114% of the 30-year median snowpack. That reading shows 18.3 inches of snow water equivalent.

The Snotel site at Copper Mountain, the closest to the headwaters of Gore Creek, is just about even with the 30-year median, with 13 inches of snow water equivalent.

The site at Fremont Pass, the closest to the headwaters of the Eagle River, is running at 93% of the 30-year median, with 12.6 inches of snow water equivalent.

March and April are traditionally the snowiest months in this part of Colorado, with snowpack graphs generally rising until roughly the end of April, then falling rapidly as the weather warms.

This year’s plentiful snowfall will pay dividends in local streams and rivers, although not as much as one may think. A big part of the snowmelt will go toward replenishing moisture in local soils. Those soils have suffered in recent years, with snowmelt that might run into streams going straight into the ground.

But the news is good, overall. The U.S. Drought Monitor map published by the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University shows most of western Colorado out of any kind of drought, with only a few scattered areas showing “abnormally dry” conditions.

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