Snowpack ‘in good standing right now’ in Eagle County
Snow water equivalent is a measure of water content in snow. This data is from recent Feb. 10 dates at the Vail Mountain SNOTEL site, which is different from the Vail Resorts measuring site.
2016: 11.9 inches
2015: 10.9 inches
2014: 15.0 inches
2013: 6.8 inches
2012: 8.0 inches
2011: 16.7 inches
Thirty-year (1981-2010) median for Feb. 10: 11.4 inches
EAGLE COUNTY — While winter enthusiasts are enjoying the snow this winter, local water officials are keeping an eye on snowpack levels with spring quickly approaching.
“The big thing for us, we want the snow to stick around,” said Diane Johnson, public affairs manager with the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District. “The snow is our largest reservoir in the state.”
Snow-water equivalent is a measure of water content in snow, and it affects everything from recreation to summer watering schedules to the local reservoirs when winter ends and the snow melts.
As of Wednesday, the SNOTEL site on Vail Mountain (not the Vail Resorts measuring site, but located near Eagle’s Nest) recorded the snow-water equivalent as 104 percent of normal (11.9 inches compared to the 30-year recorded median of 11.4 inches on Feb. 10).
“It means we’re in good standing right now,” said Brian Domonkos, Colorado Snow Survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “We still have a third of the season to go, and hopefully snowpack will be pretty close to normal.”
Snow-water equivalent at Vail Mountain was at 11.9 inches on Wednesday, and the median peak which comes in late April is 22.6 inches, so it’s about 52.6 percent of the way to normal with a third of the season to go.
With the recent high pressure systems in the valley bringing warmer temperatures and no snow, Domonkos said being slightly above normal snowpack acts as a buffer as the season goes along. With temperatures still dropping below freezing overnight, the snowpack is solid enough to stave off a dry spell, he said.
“There’s a bit of a forecast that states we’ll be relatively dry over the next few weeks,” Domonkos said. “And then usually we return to a wetter spell, especially these El Nino years, for the late winter, early spring months — March and April.”
In a small system such as Eagle County, one or two storms can really make a difference, Johnson said. January was at 70 percent of normal snowpack until the big storm that dropped over a foot of a snow at the end of the month and into February, bringing totals to above 100 percent of normal.
In 2013 when Vail Mountain reopened due to late-season snow, local water officials were on edge until the welcome dump of snow, which “totally changed the water picture,” Johnson said.
“One storm can make a difference,” Domonkos said, “but it’s pretty normal to see dry spells, decent storms and dry spells again and kind of get a more stair-step progression.”
Regional SNOTEL data from Copper Mountain and Fremont Pass also help local water officials get an indication of what will be melting off the mountains and flowing into local waterways.
As of Wednesday, the SNOTEL site at Copper Mountain read 10.1 inches, 117 percent of the normal, and the data from Fremont Pass measured 10.9 inches, 110 percent of normal.
Copper Mountain stats are indicative of snow-water equivalent in the Vail Pass area, which flows into Black Gore Creek before joining Gore Creek in East Vail. Fremont Pass presents an idea of what will eventually come down to Camp Hale and the Eagle River headwaters, Johnson said.
“We want the snow up high, and we want it to hang around,” Johnson said.
Reporter Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2915 and email@example.com. Follow him on Instagram at colorado_livin_on_the_hill.