Vail Valley snow outlook not great, but it’s early
We need an above-average snow year for 2021 water supply
Thanksgiving week will bring some — but not ample — snowfall. So far, the region’s snow year is off to a slow start.
The snow year lasts from roughly October into May. That’s when the mountains accumulate snow that provides much of the state’s water for the coming year.
So far, that snowfall has been pretty scant, with resorts depending largely on manufactured snow.
The early part of the week is expected to bring the most snow. Joel Gratz, co-founder of OpenSnow.com predicted Vail would see between 3 and 6 inches from a storm Monday night into Tuesday. Another storm is predicted for Thanksgiving day, but that isn’t expected to bring much in the way of fresh powder.
Erin Walter, a forecaster at the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, said Thursday’s storm will mostly be showers, becoming more widespread during the day and lingering into early Friday.
Outlook not great
Once those waves of storms move through, there isn’t much precipitation expected for a while.
Gratz’s forecast calls for some relatively minor storms coming through Dec. 1 and 2 and Dec. 6 through Dec. 8.
This winter’s weather is being influenced somewhat by a “La Nina” pattern in the equatorial Pacific Ocean about 1,000 miles west of the west coast of South America.
In that pattern, cooler-than-average water temperatures can influence weather patterns. Those patterns generally bring snowstorms into North America from the Pacific Northwest.
“El Nino,” La Nina’s opposite number, is a period of warmer-than-average water temperatures in the same zone of the Pacific. Those storms generally hit North America from Mexico.
In an El Nino year, storm patterns will generally benefit Colorado’s southern mountains and the Front Range. La Nina years will generally benefit the northern mountains. The central mountains tend to benefit from La Nina years, but that’s never certain.
“It’s not a linear pattern where ‘X’ causes ‘Y,’” Walter said. “That makes the forecast very tricky” for the central mountains, she added.
In need of moisture
Wherever the weather comes from this winter, we need snow, and plenty of it.
State Climatologist Russ Schumacher said the mountains need an above-average snow year to replenish soil moisture and reservoir storage.
The entire state is currently in some level of drought. Most of Eagle County has for some time been in the highest category of “exceptional” drought.
Breaking out of that cycle will require some significant moisture, Schumacher said.
At this early point in the snow year, Schumacher said one storm can significantly alter the snowpack numbers. Again, though, it’s early.
Schumacher noted that the week to 10 days after Thanksgiving don’t look promising for snow.
“If the dry pattern persists through the end of the calendar year, we’ll get a bit worried,” Schumacher said.
On the other hand, the snow year of 2018-2019 started slowly, followed by big storms in January and February. That may or may not happen this winter.
But the outlook isn’t promising. The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center’s 30-day outlook calls for a better-than-average chances of warmer-than-average temperatures and below-average precipitation.
“The outlooks don’t look great,” Schumacher said. “But things can change.”
Here’s the National Weather Service forecast for Vail for Nov. 24 — 28:
Tuesday: After overnight snow, show showers are likely before 11 a.m. High temperature: 32.
Wednesday: Sunny, with a high of 39.
Thursday: A 50% chance of snow showers, with a high near 34.
Friday: Slight chance of snow showers before 11 a.m., followed by mostly sunny skies and a high near 30.
Saturday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 36.
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