Timing of storms shouldn’t affect holiday travel
The forecast for Vail
Friday: Snow ending, with a sunny afternoon. High temperature near 32.
Saturday: Mostly sunny, with a high of 36.
Sunday: A chance of snow, with a high around 23.
Monday through Wednesday: Partly cloudy to mostly sunny, with highs in the 20s.
EAGLE COUNTY — The bare ground of November is mostly a memory now. The snow has come, and more is on the way.
According to the National Weather Service’s office in Grand Junction, the Nov. 20 snowpack around the region was around 20 percent of normal. By Dec. 20, area snowpack was about at its historic averages, thanks to some snowmaking weather systems.
Another snowmaker hit southwest Colorado this week. The mountains in Eagle County saw some of the benefit of that storm.
According to Mike Charnick, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction office, another storm is expected to hit the area this weekend — Saturday into Sunday. That storm will roll into the valley from the northwest. Another system may be headed into the valley about the middle of next week.
But weather forecasts get less reliable as they try to look further into the future. Forecasters generally work in increments of seven to 10 days.
Past that, there’s the federal Climate Prediction Center, which looks at long-term trends, not day-to-day weather.
That center is giving vague guidance for the next 30 days or so, putting this part of Colorado into a zone where there’s a roughly equal chance of above-average or below-average precipitation and temperature.
In short, the long-range forecast is more a roll of the dice than it already is. That’s especially true because of a zone of the Pacific Ocean west of Ecuador. That part of the ocean is watched for its water temperatures. When water there is warmer than average, it creates an “El Nino” effect for storms rolling into the U.S. When the water is cooler than average, a “La Nina” pattern develops.
This year, the water temperatures are staying close enough to average that neither pattern is developing.
In general, El Nino storm patterns come into Colorado from the southwest and bring more snow to the Four Corners area as well as the Front Range. La Nina storms generally come out of the northwest and tend to bring more snow the Vail Valley and Steamboat Springs.
The first storm coming to the area in the next few days is tracking from southwest with the next coming from the northwest.
But, Charnick said, those storms don’t really have anything to do with the non-distinct pattern in the Pacific. Storms can, and do, come from both directions even in winters with one strong pattern or the other.
No matter the direction, the storms coming into the valley are welcome, and shouldn’t much affect travel.
While current snow levels and forecast storms ensure a good on-mountain experience for guests, travel patterns are a bit different this time of year.
According to Vail Valley Partnership CEO Chris Romer, the coming week of Dec. 26-Jan. 4 is already pacing ahead of the previous year for occupancy.
But, while a snowy period is often good for the people occupying those rooms, the Christmas holiday period is a little different.
Ralf Garrison is the principal of Destimetrics, a Denver-based market research firm that specializes in mountain resort markets. In an email, Garrison wrote that Christmas holiday travelers tend not to be driven as much by snow. Those guests usually book far in advance, and tend to be driven by school breaks and the broader economy.
“If it snows too much or is too deep, they will stay off the hill to shop and play,” Garrison wrote. “They may actually spend more while doing so.”
Guests who can drive to ski resorts tend to be more snow-driven, Garrison wrote. But, given that lodging tends to be scarce at this point in the season, snowstorms may not have much effect on those guests.
But, Garrison wrote, a snow-abundant holiday week can have wider-ranging effects.
“If your Christmas season guest goes home and online with stories about a Christmas winter wonderland and gobs of snow, others — their sphere of influence — can be motivated to book later in the year,” Garrison wrote. “And this year, with a late Easter, you’ll want as much momentum and deep snow base as you can get.”
Whether nature delivers remains to be seen.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.