Unsettled weather may drop snow level
EAGLE COUNTY — This is the time of year when clouds, cool temperatures and a bit of moisture will quicken pulses and shift gazes uphill, looking for traces of white on the mountains.
Well, cool your jets, powder hounds — we may get a bit of snow at higher elevations, but not much.
Meteorologist Joel Gratz, a founder of the OpenSnow.com website, said this week’s weather patterns may deliver a bit of moisture, but it’s hard to tell how much, and what may follow.
“There’s basically very little predictability after this weekend,” Gratz said. “Even this week’s models have changed significantly from a couple of days ago.”
That model now shows a low pressure system over the desert in the Southwest. That system is pulling Pacific Ocean moisture toward the southern part of the Colorado Rockies, and it could also pump some moisture into Colorado’s Front Range.
Megan Stackhouse is a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction office. She said that the current system is pulling a lot of moisture into the region. That moisture combined with cooler temperatures may be enough to drop the snow level below 10,000 feet for a night or two this week, she said. Another system dropping this way from the Pacific Northwest could also drop snow levels, Stackhouse said.
HARD TO PREDICT
The current storm systems are hard to predict, though.
Gratz said the current system is called a “cutoff” storm, meaning that it has detached from broader patterns. Cutoff systems move slowly and tend to meander, Gratz said, meaning it’s hard to determine just where storms will develop and what they’ll deliver.
Weather forecasters don’t usually provide forecasts more than a week to 10 days out — predictability drops the farther into the future one tries to predict. For longer-range forecasts, we need to turn to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, home of the National Climate Prediction Center.
That agency recently released an online video detailing current thinking about weather for the coming winter.
EL NINO PATTERN
Thanks to a very strong El Nino pattern in the Pacific — in which water temperatures are warmer than average — the climate center is predicting higher-than-normal temperatures for an area from Southern California across the northern tier of the U.S.
Conversely, the long-range forecast indicates higher-than-normal precipitation from Southern California across the southern states, with the possibility of more rain and snow there. Those precipitation bands stretch into Colorado’s Four Corners and up into the Front Range, with Vail on the very edge of those bands.
That means we may be looking at a roughly average winter for both temperatures and snowfall.
SNOWMAKING NOT POSSIBLE YET
The warm fall so far means the local mountains still aren’t making snow.
Vail Mountain spokeswoman Liz Biebl said the snow guns usually fire up at Golden Peak in October and at Lionshead in November. Depending on overnight temperatures, snowmaking could start at Golden Peak by the end of this week.
While those machines aren’t in action yet, “this isn’t unusual,” Biebl said.
And, Gratz said, it’s hard to tell just what’s going to happen as the seasons change in fall and spring.
“Last year was quite warm into early November,” Gratz said. “Then we had two big snowstorms”
“Things can change rather quickly,” he added. “What we see now can be vastly different from early November.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.