Vail Valley snowpack is about normal, but a dry stretch may be coming
The snowpack will decline every day we don't have fresh powder
EAGLE COUNTY — Here’s an indication of how little snow the Vail area received last season: The snow measurement site on Vail Pass on Jan. 29 showed double the amount of snow received by Jan. 29, 2018.
That’s good news, of course. But the Jan. 29 snowpack at the Vail Mountain measurement site is still just more than the 30-year median snowpack for that date.
The good news continues at the upper valley’s other primary snow-measurement sites. At Copper Mountain, the closest measurement site to the headwaters of Gore Creek, there’s currently 132 percent of the median snowpack. Atop Fremont Pass, the nearest site to the Eagle River’s headwaters, the snow is at 133 percent of the median.
According to the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, snowpack statewide is at 107 percent of the 30-year median, and 150 percent of the readings at this time in 2018.
All this bodes well for the state’s water supplies, but make no mistake, the region is still in a dry period.
And there isn’t much snowfall predicted as February begins.
Snow this weekend?
Dan Cuevas, a technician at the Grand Junction National Weather Service office, said the next few days should be clear and dry. It’s too soon in the week to tell with certainty, but Cuevas said the storm system rolling through on Saturday night into Sunday is “potentially significant.”
Meteorologists don’t like to forecast more than about a week in advance, but the U.S. Climate Prediction Center’s models for the next few weeks don’t have much good news.
In the near term, the center is predicting cool temperatures and the possibility of precipitation for the period between Feb. 6 and Feb. 9. Past that, though, the prediction is for warmer-than-average temperatures and below-average precipitation for the Mountain West.
Again, though, long-term predictions are tricky, so there’s little to do besides watch and wait.
Last year’s snow-short winter was followed by an unusually dry summer. Diane Johnson of the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District said that summer played a large role in the valley’s water-supply situation.
“We’ve shown we’ve been able to get by with a less-than-average winter,” Johnson said. “But the importance of summer rain was really driven home.”
Johnson said the dry weather in June and July affected local streamflows. Since streamflows are the basis of much of the valley’s water supply, that was bad news.
The new normal
“Even if we had an amazing winter, with no June or July rain we’d still be hurting in August,” Johnson said.
Lack of winter, spring and summer moisture pulls water out of the ground. And, Johnson said, it can take a long time for area soils to rehydrate.
That’s been one of the problems in southwestern Colorado. Despite good winter snow, that part of the state is still in “extreme” or “exceptional” drought, according to the National Drought Monitor. And, despite good winter snow locally, the monitor still puts Eagle County into the “severe” drought classification.
One good, or even average, winter isn’t going to cure dryness that’s been years in the making.
“Overall the direction is less,” Johnson said. “Less snow, less precipitation, less (soil) moisture and less runoff.”
Johnson said the answer to that long-term change is simple, if unpopular: “People have to start using less water, in their homes and in their landscaping.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at email@example.com or 970-748-2930.
Justin Fillmore and his dog Parker had no shelter from the storm when the snow arrived Thursday.