Recent storms push Vail Valley snowpack well above normal

Statewide, the snowpack is 117% of average

Scott Weaver, of Gypsum, makes his way through ridiculously deep powder in the Narrows at Vail. The storms that pounded the area in February pushed the local snowpack to above-average levels.
Justin McCarty | Special to the Daily

Last weekend’s massive storms bounced the region’s snowpack to 125% of normal, according to the experts who keep track of snow totals.

“The last five days have been great for snowpack accumulation,” said Brian Domonkos, the supervisor of the Colorado Snow Survey Program, which is part of the United States Department of Agriculture.

Domonkos scanned 50 sites around Colorado, quickly crunched some numbers and found that the weekend storms boosted the statewide snowpack to 117%, and 125% in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

Over the last five days, snow water equivalent in the Upper Colorado River Basin that includes Eagle County is up 15%. The South Platte basin is up 14%. The snow water equivalent is the amount of water the snow contains.

“For water supply and providing a longterm runoff that goes into the summer, you want more water that melts slowly,” Domonkos said.

Support Local Journalism

The data from last weekend’s storms is still preliminary, Domonkos said.

On Saturday the Vail SNOTEL site recorded 1.7 inches of snow water equivalent since the day before, only the third time in the 42-year site record that has happened, Diane Johnson with the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District said.

The 3.2 inches of SWE received in four days from Thursday to Monday represents 22% of this year’s snow water equivalent, 134 days in the water year, Oct. 1 to Tuesday.

“Hooray for now. Vail is now at 125% of normal, but as we always say – there’s a lot of winter ahead of us and we’ll see what happens,” Johnson said.

Good before the storm

The Colorado River Basin snowpack was pretty good before the storm at 109% of the median, and 97% of last year’s big snowpack numbers.

The water year began in October and is still a mixed bag, but it has been so far so good, according to Karl Wetlaufer, a hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. October and early November were dry before the snowpack started to pile up in December.

“After a particularly dry late summer and fall, December provided substantial snow accumulation in Colorado,” Wetlaufer wrote in the NRCS monthly report.

Your reservoir

The snowpack is like a massive, white reservoir settling on the mountains through the winter. How much water we have during the summer depends largely on how much water that snowpack contains, Wetlaufer wrote.

While the statewide snowpack was above average before the storms, precipitation is still below average for the water year, Wetlaufer wrote.

There is still plenty of time, too, for more snowpack to accumulate. It’s still early February and the snowpack is expected to peak in mid-April.

 “While the dry early season conditions have led to forecasts lower than the snowpack may suggest, it is still encouraging to have the snowpack that we do with a few more months of accumulation left,” Wetlaufer wrote.

Support Local Journalism