Statewide drought isn’t yet a concern for most
November 12, 2016
EAGLE COUNTY — We all know a slow start for snowfall doesn't mean the ski season will turn out to be bad. It can, however, make it difficult for snowpack to catch up later in the season, which is what concerns those who watch water levels.
"From a skiing perspective, one good series of storms could have people forgetting this dry weather," said self-proclaimed Colorado River nerd, Eric Kuhn. "From a water supply perspective, the longer we go without any snow, the more unlikely it is we will catch up to average."
Kuhn is the general manager of the Colorado River District; 2016-'17 will be his 36th winter working with the district.
"I've seen some really wet ones, I've seen some dry ones and I know it's not time to panic," he said. Besides, "it looks like there's three days between now and Thanksgiving where they're suggesting there's a chance of rain and snow."
“We’re dependent on stream flows. We don’t have lots of reservoir storage, so talking to Denver Water or someone like that it’s a different story. We go ‘Hey, we’ll see what’s coming down in the spring.’ Obviously, we always like being ahead but I don’t think it automatically sets us up for gloom.”Diane JohnsonCommunications manager, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District
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Stuck on zero
Currently, the snow-water equivalent at the Snotel site on Vail Mountain is 0 inches; the 30-year median for Friday is 2.7 inches. Copper Mountain's site is also reading 0 inches with a 1.5-inch 30-year median. At the headwaters of the Eagle River on Fremont Pass, there's currently a 0.3 inch snowpack reading, with a 30-year median for Friday of 2.4 inches.
Arapahoe Basin and Loveland ski resorts, which are always the first resorts to open on the Interstate 70 corridor, have both opened. Those resorts do not announce an opening date ahead of time, but their Summit County neighbors who do, including Copper Mountain and Keystone, have seen delays to their originally scheduled dates.
Here in Eagle County, Ski and Snowboard Club Vail was hoping to have its professional training grounds at Golden Peak open to national teams from around the world by today, but will be forced to wait until cooler temperatures allow for more snowmaking.
Eagle River Water & Sanitation District communications manager Diane Johnson has worked in the area for decades, and has seen delays to the local resort openings. She cautions skiers against basing season predictions on early season conditions.
"In the 1978-'79 season, we started with .4 inches snow water equivalent, and that turned out to be a great year with peak (snow water equivalent) at 34 inches in May," Johnson said. "And in 2011-'12, we had about normal for right now, but that turned into the lowest overall."
It's DIFFERENT ELSEWHERE
With a dry autumn, virtually all of Colorado is now in a moderate drought. In the Northeastern U.S., Killington Resort in Vermont has been open since October and has recorded 17.5 inches of snow so far this season. In the west, there's been tremendous precipitation north of Northern California, but not much snowfall as of yet.
Rain helps reservoir levels, but doesn't help snowpack.
"For the next system that's supposed to come in, the temperatures in Glenwood (Springs) could be as high as 50 degrees," said Kuhn. "So the snow level (elevation) will still be quite high."
In the Eagle River Valley, low snowpack, but lots of powder days, still means a good season. As far as water levels are concerned, even in a low snowpack year the valley isn't as inclined to keep a nervous eye on reservoir levels.
"We're dependent on stream flows. We don't have lots of reservoir storage, so talking to Denver Water or someone like that it's a different story," Johnson said. "We go 'Hey, we'll see what's coming down in the spring.' Obviously, we always like being ahead but I don't think it automatically sets us up for gloom."