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Vail’s snowpack so far ahead of the 30-year median pace

Copper Mountain measurement site has already hit the 30-year median peak, weeks early

Scott Weaver, of Gypsum, makes his way through ridiculously deep powder in the Narrows at Vail. The storms that pounded the area in February pushed the local snowpack to above-average levels.
Justin McCarty | Special to the Daily
By the numbers
  • 117%: Amount of “snow water equivalent” on Vail Mountain compared to the 30-year median.
  • 139%: Snow water equivalent at Copper Mountain compared to the 30-year median.
  • 124%: Snow water equivalent at Fremont Pass compared to the 30-year median.

The “great” winter of 2018-19 was actually a bit below average. Local snowpack is on course to surpass that this winter if the clouds cooperate.

The latest figures on the “snow water equivalent” in and near the headwaters of Gore Creek and the Eagle River includes some good news, thanks to a snowy February.

The three main snow measurement sites used by the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District show numbers well above 30-year median figures.

As of March 2, Vail Mountain’s snow measurement site is at 117% percent of that 30-year median. Fremont Pass, the closest measurement site to the headwaters of the Eagle River, is at 124% of the 30-year median. The measurement site at Copper Mountain, the closest to the headwaters of Gore Creek, has the most snow, at 139% of the 30-year median.

In fact, the Copper Mountain measurement site has now accumulated its peak snow water equivalent compared to the 30-year median. That peak generally comes in early May.

So far, so good

That’s good news, for now, but several weeks remain in the area’s “snow year,” with the usually snowiest months of March and April still to come.

But the weather doesn’t always cooperate.

In the 2018-19 snow year, a snowy March boosted the snowpack. But a dry April caused the snowpack at Vail to peak in early April, instead of the usual late-April peak.

The snowpack on Vail Mountain is running ahead of last year’s levels, but another two months remain in the current snow season.

In fact, the Vail snowpack finished the previous snow year a bit below the 30-year median.

When the snowpack peaks, the numbers tend to take an almost-straight drop as the weather warms. Last year, the snowpack lingered, thanks to a cool, sometimes-snowy May and early June.

Still, the memory of the previous snow year was of epic snow.

“People remember really fast accumulations,” said Diane Johnson, the water district’s communications and public affairs manager. “Even though we didn’t a whole lot more (snow past March), people say, ‘Oh my gosh, it was such a great year.’”

There’s no way to tell if the big snows in February of this year will translate to more snowpack through the rest of the season.

The federal climate prediction center gives no guidance for March. The latest prediction maps show an even chance of normal temperatures and precipitation.

Colorado still in a drought

While an even chance of normal precipitation is fine, much of the state remains in some form of drought, according to the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University. Those conditions range from “abnormally dry” to “moderate drought.” Only the far southwestern corner of Eagle County is on that map. The rest of the county is drought-free.

As winter turns to spring and summer, our recreational pursuits turn from ski slopes to rivers. Snowpack is only part of the equation when it comes to streamflows.

“We need the precipitation that comes in the summertime,” Johnson said.

Ultimately, good streamflows — and water supplies — require snow and cool weather in the winter, and moderate temperatures and timely rain in the summer.

But with two months or so left in the snow season, there’s still time for more snow, which would be good news for everyone.

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


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