Snowpack holding, but dry January expected
By the numbers
37 inches: Base depth at Vail Mountain.
134 inches: Season snow total at Vail.
7.6 inches: “Snow water equivalent” moisture on Vail Mountain.
93 percent: Snowfall at Vail compared to 30-year median snowfall through Jan. 7.
EAGLE COUNTY — The big storms of the early ski season have eased as we move into the new year, but snowfall totals around the area are in line with historic averages.
The U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service has snow measurement sites at Vail Mountain, Beaver Creek Mountain, the Copper Mountain ski area and Fremont Pass near Leadville. Three of those sites drain into the Eagle River, the valley’s primary water supply. The Copper Mountain site is the closest to Vail Pass, so it gives good information about snowfall in that area. All those sites are near, or slightly above, their historic averages.
Short-term forecasts from both the National Weather Service and the OpenSnow.com website show a bit of snow in the forecast through Sunday or so, followed by clear skies for a few days.
OpenSnow meteorologist Joel Gratz has predicted an inch or two a day at Vail throughout the course of the next few days, but both the Weather Service and OpenSnow are predicting a dry period lasting for several days.
Weather forecasters start losing confidence in forecasts more than seven to 10 days ahead, but there are indications that there could be a bit more snow in the forecast starting about Jan. 14.
Andrew Lyons, a meteorologist in the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction office, said there are storm systems starting to form in the Pacific Ocean that could bring some snow to the area about the middle of next week. What complicates predictions is that forecasters don’t know exactly how the storms will travel when they hit the western United States.
Because of those climatological complications, Gratz said he doesn’t expect much in the way of significant snow from Monday through about Jan. 18. That could change, of course.
On the other hand, Lyons said January traditionally isn’t a big snow month — March and April are the snowiest months in the Rockies.
Lyons added that the current El Nino weather pattern in the Pacific Ocean historically brings bigger storms early, followed by dryer weather during January and February. So far, this winter’s storms seem to be following that pattern.
Still, the snowpack is holding steady, for now.
A cold snap between Christmas and New Year’s Day helped maintain the snow cover, Gratz said. Even the warmer weather this week hasn’t had much effect on snowpack, since the angle of the sun is still so low at this latitude.
What everyone wants to know, though, is where the snowpack will be as spring approaches.
Again, long-range forecasting is an iffy proposition, but news seems good, or, at least, not bad.
The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center has national maps predicting both temperature and precipitation. For temperatures, the map shows Colorado with an even chance of normal seasonal temperatures, although there’s a roughly equal chance that temperatures could range both above and below those norms.
Good News for Spring Skiing
The precipitation map is a bit more encouraging. The three-month prediction is for a chance of above-normal precipitation during that period, with Eagle County right on outside border of that zone.
But, Gratz said, we may not see that above-normal snowfall until later in the season. That’s the historic norm for El Nino years.
“The indications are that late February through early April tends to be above average for snowfall,” Gratz said.
That’s good news spring skiing, and for water supplies through the rest of this year. And it’s not-bad news for the resorts, if the snowpack holds.
“If we can be close-ish to average (snowpack) by the end of January, that would be a big win,” Gratz said.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.