A white Christmas capped off a snowy December for Summit County, but though snow accumulation has improved, experts say it's still too early to tell if Colorado will get enough powder to end its worst drought in a decade.
"We're still early in the snowpack season," National Weather Service hydrologist Treste Huse said. "A lot can change before the end of the year. It's still not where we want to see it, but it has definitely improved."
The state needs to see well above average snowfall to end the drought, Huse said.
The current winter season is only 35-40 percent of the way through, but so far the indicators aren't necessarily encouraging.
Snowpack, while improving, is still only 71 percent of average in the Upper Colorado River Basin, levels in the once-brimming Dillon Reservoir are below normal for this time of year and a bout of dry weather may be on the horizon for northern Colorado and much of the country, according to the National Weather Service.
Colorado navigated the summer months this year with near-full reservoirs across the state after a record-high snowfall season in 2010/11. But those storage facilities have been depleted, making precipitation this winter crucial to the water reserves that will carry Colorado through the summer of 2013.
Dillon Reservoir was approximately 70 percent full last week, but has historically been 93 percent full on average at this time of year. Denver Water's total system is running at approximately 63 percent full, compared to a past median of 83 percent.
"Right now, we're at the point where the next five months for us are really vital," Denver Water spokesman Travis Thompson said. "We're continuing to monitor conditions and hope for snow this winter."
Wave after wave of winter weather through the better part of December has certainly helped, Huse said. The snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin has nearly doubled from just 38 percent of average on Dec. 6 and is ahead of last year, when snow pack had only reached 67 percent of average with a meager 4 inches of snow dusting Breckenridge over the course of the last month of 2011.
Recent storms have delivered more than a dozen inches to Summit County during the month of December, but the consistent snowfall may be winding down at least for the next few weeks, according to NWS projections.
While precipitation is in the forecast, with some modest accumulations today and tonight, and possibly again on Monday, the weather is on track to clear up by early January.
"We're going to be drying out again," Huse said. "Jan. 3-9 did indicate below normal precipitation."
March and April are usually the snowiest months of the year for Summit County, generating a 20-year average of 54 inches of snow in the last eight weeks of the ski season.