Vail Valley set for a powder day Tuesday, Feb. 20; more snow may come this week | VailDaily.com

Vail Valley set for a powder day Tuesday, Feb. 20; more snow may come this week

Trees are coated in snow Monday, Oct. 2, in Beaver Creek. The new snow though scenic, took down a lot of limbs and trees due to its weight.

EAGLE COUNTY — Winter has returned to the central Rocky Mountains, and looks to be bringing some snow this time.

A mostly-warm, mostly-dry winter has since November worried skiers and people who watch our water supplies. But the news seems to be getting better, a few inches at a time.

According to the mountain reports on Monday, Feb. 19, posted before an afternoon storm settled in, Vail Mountain had received 11 inches of snow in the past seven days. Beaver Creek had received 17 inches in the same period.

Monday's storm, though, was expected to drop several inches of new snow on the slopes. According to http://www.opensnow.com, snowfall amounts would vary from resort to resort.

Monday's storm also brought a fresh blast of cold temperatures. According to the National Weather Service, those cold temperatures would linger into the coming weekend. That forecast called for a chance of snow on Thursday, Feb. 23, with the prospect of snow into the weekend. OpenSnow forecaster Sam Collentine predicted more consistent snowfall into the weekend along the Interstate 70 corridor.

The cause

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The winter snow drought has been caused, in part, by a persistent ridge of high pressure over the desert Southwest and Southern California. That, combined with a months-long northerly track of the jet stream, pushed snow-making storms to the north of Colorado.

Jimmy Fowler, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Grand Junction office, said that high pressure ridge had broken down a bit recently. More important, through, a low pressure system is now established off the coast of Southern California. That system has been sending some snow this way.

The current snow season has been unusual in that event a weak "La Nina" effect — cooler-than-normal water temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean — generally benefits the northern and central mountains in Colorado.

That hasn't happened, and the area's snowpack has suffered as a result.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has snow-measurement sites around the mountains. The Eagle River Water & Sanitation District tracks several: on Vail Mountain, at Copper Mountain — near the headwaters of Gore Creek — and at Fremont Pass — near the Eagle River's headwaters.

Those numbers give water officials a look at how much water is in the current season's snow. That's essential, since snowpack is essentially the valley's reservoir for summer water supplies.

The news is OK at Copper Mountain and Fremont Pass. Compared to the 30-year median snowfall, Copper Mountain was at 85 percent of normal on Monday, Feb. 19. The Fremont Pass site on the same date was at 107 percent of normal.

Vail Mountain, though, Monday was sitting at 69 percent of the 30-year median amount. The 8.8 inches of "snow water equivalent" was below even the lowest year on record, the historic drought season of 2011/2012.

While welcome in the mountains, Monday's storm fouled traffic around the state. Just before 5 p.m., an Eagle County Alert was issued notifying motorists that only vehicles with four-wheel or all-wheel drive were being allowed on Village Road between Avon and Beaver Creek Village. The Colorado Department of Transportation Monday afternoon imposed the state's traction requirements just about statewide. Those requirements mean all commercial vehicles must chain up in designated areas, all passenger cars must have snow tires, mud/snow tires or traction devices or be all-wheel or four-wheel drive.

Whether this series of storms helps drag us out of our snow deficit, every flake is welcome right now.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com and @scottnmiller.

The forecast

Here’s the National Weather Service’s forecast for Vail through Saturday, Feb. 24:

Tuesday, Feb. 20: Snow showers likely before 8 a.m. Chance of precipitation, 60 percent. High of 13.

Feb. 21: Mostly sunny. High, 23.

Feb. 22: A 30 percent chance of snow showers. High, 28.

Feb. 23: Slight chance of snow showers. High, 29

Feb. 24: Mostly sunny. High, 28.