Vail Valley snowpack strong, but it’s too warm
Today: Cloudy, with a high near 40. Low: 24
Sunday: Rain likely, high of 41. Low: 26
Monday: Mostly sunny, high of 38. Low: 25
Tuesday: Mostly sunny, high of 44. Low 27.
Source: National Weather Service.
EAGLE COUNTY — February can bring rain to the Vail Valley, but not often. This year is different.
The town of Vail saw a decent amount of rain a week ago, and rain is in the forecast for Sunday. This upcoming rain won’t be confined to the valley floor.
Julie Malingowski, a forecaster at the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction office, said the snow line is 9,500 feet for a storm predicted to roll in Sunday. That’s high for this time of year.
It’s unseasonably warm for this time of year, too. Eagle River Water & Sanitation District’s Communications and Public Affairs Manager Diane Johnson said Thursday’s high temperature was 51 degrees at official snow measurement site on Vail Mountain. That site is at roughly 10,000 feet elevation.
It’s warm right now.
Still plenty of snow
The good news is that the season’s snowpack is holding up well. After a dry November, a very snowy December and January put the area’s snowpack at nearly 140 percent of the 30-year median for early February.
Overall, the average snowpack snow water equivalent is at 73 percent of the seasonal peak averaged over the water district’s three most important measurement sites — Copper Mountain, Fremont Pass and Vail Mountain.
That’s very good news, considering March and April are historically the two snowiest months of the year.
It’s even better news considering the warm weather of the past couple of weeks.
“I’m almost a little surprised the (snowpack) numbers aren’t going down,” Johnson said.
The unseasonably warm weather is forecast to continue for at least the next several days, although it looks like snow is coming.
According to the website OpenSnow.com, the Sunday storm forecast for this part of the Rockies predicts only an inch or two of new snow along the Interstate 70 corridor.
There’s more snow in the forecast going into the last few days of this month.
Malingowski said after a break on Monday and Tuesday, a larger, colder system will move in later this week. That storm is tracking in from the northwest, the source of most snow-making storms for this part of the state. Temperatures should also drop, with a high of 31 degrees forecast for Thursday. Which comes after more than a week of above-freezing temperatures.
Whether that storm is the start of a fresh cycle of new snow is anyone’s guess. Forecasts get less precise more than seven to 10 days in advance.
More warmth ahead?
Johnson said she’s heard people drawing parallels between this year and the first months of 2011. The Vail Mountain snow water equivalent on Feb. 17, 2011, was 16.4 inches. The number this year is 16.5 inches. Both those numbers are well above the median of 12.3 inches. The 2011 and 2017 numbers are the highest measured for that date since 1981.
The all-time peak since 1981 — which usually comes in late April — was 39.1 inches in the winter of 1983 to ’84. The lowest peak measurement came in the drought year of 2011 to ’12. The peak for the 2011 to 2012 season came March 4, with only 12.4 inches of snow water equivalent.
While the numbers are encouraging so far this season, the federal Climate Prediction Center — which looks at trends, not specific forecasts — offers mixed news.
The latest Colorado prediction for March, April and May is for above-normal temperatures and a roughly even chance of normal precipitation.
But the water year is on a good course — at least for now.
“It’s great to ride on, but where the peak comes is the story we care about,” Johnson said. “The later the better, and does the cold stick around? We want (the snow) to hang on.”
For now, though, the snow is good. But many locals always want more.
In an interview for another story, Venture Sports owner Mike Brumbaugh said the snow is riding well now, but more is always welcome.
“I’m nothing if not greedy when it comes to snow,” Brumbaugh said. “We’ll take whatever we can get.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org and @scottnmiller.