Storm boosting Vail Valley’s low snowpack |

Storm boosting Vail Valley’s low snowpack

Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyJames Ellis shovels snow off his Eagle-Vail driveway Friday while one of his dogs, Floyd, foreground, patrols the snow. Ellis said his snow blower broke earlier in the morning

VAIL, Colorado – Friday’s storm will help local snowpack levels, but a lot more snow will be needed to bring them back to average.

Just before the storm hit, the snowpack for the Colorado River Basin region of the state, which includes Eagle County, was 76 percent of average. It was 85 percent of average statewide.

“It is a little bit (troubling), especially given that we’ve got about two to three weeks of our normal season remaining when we can really accumulate much snow,” said Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor for the Natrual Resources Conservation Service.

Much of the state’s annual water supply comes from melting snowpack. The state relies on snowpack for municipal, agricultural and recreational uses. A low snowpack also impacts the water supplies of other states down the Colorado River.

Municipalities and farmers with more junior water rights may not get all the water they want this year, Gillespie said.

The Vail area will need three times average snowfall between now and April 14 to return to normal, Gillespie said. This is the lowest snowpack year in Colorado Basin since the 2002 drought year, he said.

But Friday’s storm is a good boost. Eight inches of wet snow would boost the area’s snowpack by 10 percentage points compared to average, he said.

On Fremont Pass, where the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District gets much of its water supply, the snowpack was at 85 percent of average as of Monday.

Diane Johnson, of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District, said a wet spring will help a lot.

“We’re taking it seriously now,” she said. “It’s now toward the end of March, and we are looking at a lot of things to prepare. Really, if we get a moist spring and a cold spring, while the folks in town won’t like it, it’ll be good for the water supply. But if we get a dry, warm April and May that makes a lot of the snowpack go away, that changes the story for us.”

Across the West, the northern states such as Montana and Wyoming have seen little moisture, while the southern states such as Arizona and New Mexico have been inundated. Colorado is on the border of that split. As a result, the northwest part of the state is at just 73 percent of average snowpack, while the Rio Grande Basin in the south is at 108 percent of average.

“This year has been a a classic El Nino year,” Gillespie said.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 970-748-2929 or

Support Local Journalism