Vail Valley may not have much new snow over the holidays

Area's snowpack is tracking at roughly average levels, with a lot of winter left

Snowpack this season is tracking at roughly normal levels, but there's still a lot of winter to come.
The forecast Here’s the National Weather Service forecast for Vail through Dec. 30:
  • Dec. 26: Mostly sunny, with a high near 28.
  • Dec. 27: A 20% chance of snow showers. Cloudy, with a high near 31.
  • Dec. 28: Slight chance of snow showers. Mostly sunny, with a high near 26.
  • Dec. 29: Mostly sunny, with a high near 27.
  • Dec. 30: Mostly sunny, with a high near 32.

VAIL — It looks like the valley’s “white Christmas” will refer mostly to snow already on the ground.

This story was written on Christmas Eve, when the forecast showed a chance of snow showers, with expected accumulation of just a few inches. That’s not really the definition of powder for Christmas.

The southwestern part of the state could be a different story. Meteorologist Sam Collentine of called for a “firehose of moisture” coming with the system, but most of the snow was expected to remain to the south of Interstate 70 and the Vail Valley.

The good news is that travelers will probably have to deal mainly with traffic, not weather, making their way to and from Eagle County, at least through the weekend.

Collentine’s forecast called for occasionally wet and icy conditions through the Christmas storm, with dry conditions returning by Dec. 26.

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Collentine’s forecast calls for another chance of light snow Dec. 27 and 28, but not enough to really foul travel conditions.

Little snow in the forecast

Norv Larson, a meteorologist in the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, said there isn’t much significant snow coming over the next several days, either. A new system could come in from the northwest toward the middle of the week of Dec. 30, but that won’t bring a lot of snow, either.

“I wish there was more (for the Vail Valley),” Larson said. “This is a better system for the San Juan and West Elk (mountains)” over the next week or so.

The good news is that area snowpack is solid, although we’re still early in the current snow season.

As of Dec. 23, the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District was reporting that snowpack — as measured by the “snow water equivalent” in that snow — is running close to the 30-year median.

As of Monday, Vail Mountain’s snow was 97% of the 30-year median. The snow measurement site at Copper Mountain — the closest site to the headwaters of Gore Creek — was at 121% of normal. The measurement site at Fremont Pass — the closest site to the Eagle River’s headwaters — was at 114% of normal.

The district’s graphs, while encouraging, also tell us we have a lot of winter left.

The median snowpack on Vail Mountain generally peaks around April 20. And current snowpack, while tracking with historic averages, is only about one-third of the way to the seasonal peak.

Still, the early numbers are good.

What about El Nino?

But growing the snowpack also relies on continuing snow. Weather forecasters generally don’t make predictions more than about a week in advance. Longer-term looks come from the federal Climate Prediction Center.

That agency’s current forecasts for the next eight to 14 days show a roughly even chance of average temperature in the area,  with a slight chance of above-average precipitation.

Larson said trends this winter are harder to pin down because there’s neither an El Nino or La Nina pattern in the Pacific Ocean west of South America.

El Nino patterns develop with warmer-than-average water temperatures in that region. La Nina patterns are driven by cooler-than-average water temperatures.

El Nino patterns tend to benefit the southern mountains in Colorado and the Front Range. La Nina patterns generally bring storms out of the Pacific Northwest.

Larson said those patterns give weather and climate forecasters “something you can really hang your hat on.”

Without either pattern present, forecasting is “more subtle and nuanced,” Larson said, acknowledging that those neutral patterns aren’t clearly understood.

Essentially storms this winter will develop as they will, and we’ll just have to see what the rest of the season brings.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at or 970-748-2930.

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