Snow looks scarce in seven-day forecast
EAGLE COUNTY — Days with clear-blue skies and daytime temperatures well above freezing, even at high elevations are delightful. But, really, it’s too nice, especially for this time of year.
While snowfall is being measured in feet in the northeastern U.S., particularly New England — Boston has broken a 30-day snowfall record — the western part of the country has been clear and dry. In fact, the last sustained snowfall in the valley dates back weeks now, probably into the last days of 2014.
HIGH PRESSURE SYSTEM
The culprit has been a lingering high pressure system in the western U.S. that has shuffled Pacific storm systems into a persistent low-pressure system in the eastern part of the country. The result has been great gobs of snow there, with just a few random snowstorms in this part of the country.
The question, then, is when those patterns will change, bringing relief to the Northeast and the relief of fresh powder to the Mountain West?
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The answer, at this point, is a somewhat vague, “eventually.”
Ellen Heffernan, a forecaster at the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction office, said next week could bring a slight disturbance in those persistent patterns. The predicted snow, though, could track mostly into the southern part of the state.
But if you think this part of the state could use some snow, Southern Colorado is really hurting. The U.S. Drought Monitor website shows the southeastern part of the state is already in a “severe” drought, with other areas rated as being in a “moderate” drought.
Most of Western Colorado is rated as “abnormally dry.”
WATER SUPPLY FOR SUMMER
That’s bad for powder-loving skiers, of course. It could also be bad news for summer water supplies, since virtually all of Colorado relies on mountain snowfall for agricultural and domestic water.
But Jim Pringle, another forecaster at the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction office, said current snowpack numbers are OK, despite several dry weeks. Still, he said, the warm weather is abnormal for the region.
According to a Feb. 5 release from the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Colorado River basin, of which Eagle County is a part, still had 95 percent of its average snowpack despite a very dry January.
But snow is needed, and fairly soon, to maintain a good snow supply for the summer.
Diane Johnson of the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District said it’s important to look ahead into the spring, toward the dates when snowpack generally is at its peak for the snow season.
“Every day you don’t get precipitation, you’re affecting that peak,” Johnson said.
That’s why good numbers now can quickly turn dismal if the weather doesn’t cooperate.
The peak dates are also important because snowpack numbers tend to fall quickly once the warm days of spring arrive. Even a big snowfall in late April won’t have much of an impact because that snow tends to melt quickly.
Forecasters can’t predict specific storm patterns past 10 days or so. On the other hand, the long-term outlook is pretty positive. The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center calls for near-normal temperatures and above-average precipitation through the end of March and into April.
Pringle acknowledged the difficulty of long-range forecasts for specific storms, but added the Climate Prediction Center’s more general forecasts are generally pretty reliable.
Don’t put away the boots and shovels or drain the gas tanks on the snow blowers just yet.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.