Can Eagle County’s snowpack catch up with seasonal averages?
Two storms last week put a sharp spike in the graph ines
Snow last week provided a big boost to the area’s snowpack. Storms forecast for the coming days may further boost those totals.
Vail Mountain is reporting 29 inches of new snow in the past seven days. That’s been enough to boost the measurement site on Vail Mountain — which measures “snow water equivalent,” the amount of water in snow — to 88% of the 30-year median. The same site on Jan. 18 showed snowpack at just 69% of that 30-year median.
The numbers were roughly the same at sites on Copper Mountain and Fremont Pass, the sites closest to Vail Pass and the headwaters of the Eagle River, respectively.
The chart line could take another steep upward swing over the next week to 10 days.
Tom Renwick, a forecaster at the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, said the Central Rockies, including the area around Vail, could see between 6 and 12 inches starting late Monday and continuing to Wednesday.
Renwick said the Weather Service is expecting to release a winter weather advisory in the early morning hours of Tuesday. That warning will last about 36 hours, given current trends.
A powder weekend?
The next storm could come over the upcoming weekend. That second system has “plenty of moisture,” Renwick said.
Sam Collentine, a forecaster with OpenSnow.com, wrote in an email that his observations indicate a similar trend through the week.
Collentine added that there are additional chances for snow the week of Feb. 15.
Renwick said the sum of those storms — if they track properly and deliver good moisture — could bring snowpack totals up to or near seasonal norms.
Renwick added that the current trend is roughly consistent with other winters influenced by a La Nina pattern in the Pacific Ocean. A La Nina pattern starts with cooler-than-normal water in a part of the ocean about 1,000 miles west of the coast of Ecuador.
Renwick noted that La Nina winters tend to start dry, with increasing precipitation in late winter heading into spring.
After what Renwick called an “abnormally dry” January, that pattern is starting to develop, he said.
The drought persists
But even if the local snowpack nears normal levels, the fact is that Eagle County remains in a prolonged drought period.
Even with normal snowfall, the ground is parched underneath that snow. That means much of the snowpack will melt into the ground before it runs off into local streams.
With that and other factors in mind — including summers when expected rainfall hasn’t materialized — local water officials are urging customers to adapt to a continued dry climate.
“Our focus continues to be on preparing for a low water supply year and working with our customers to make permanent reductions in water use, especially outdoor water use…” wrote Diane Johnson, the communications and public affairs manager for the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District Communications, in an email.
Johnson’s email notes that reducing outdoor water use is particularly important. Outdoor irrigation uses far more water than indoor domestic use, Johnson wrote. And, while almost all water used indoors eventually returns to local streams, very little water used for outdoor irrigation returns to streams.
“Whether we get snow or not, people need to adapt to Colorado’s natural arid environment,” Johnson wrote. That means creating landscaping that uses less water and installing efficient irrigation systems, she added. There’s also the need to stop overwatering outdoor spaces.
It’s all part of being able to “adapt to an aridifying environment,” Johnson wrote. That holds no matter how much more snow this season may bring.
69%: The Jan. 18 percentage of the 30-year median of the snowpack on Vail Mountain.
88%: The Feb. 8 percentage of the 30-year median of the snowpack on Vail Mountain.
95%: The Feb. 8 percentage of the 30-year median of the snowpack at Copper Mountain.
86%: The Feb. 8 percentage of the 30-year median of the snowpack at Fremont Pass.