After a significant dip, Summit County’s snowpack may see brief revival with approaching spring storms
Snow accumulation could reach a foot in high-elevation areas this week, though it likely won’t be enough to reverse the snowpack’s imminent decline
After sustaining its snowpack at above-average levels through most of the winter and early spring, Summit County saw its most significant dip last week, plunging levels below the 30-year median.
While some snowpack in the Blue River Basin reached as high as 120% of the average this year, consistent warm weather and dry conditions caused it to decline about a week earlier than its historic peak, which is April 18, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture.
As of April 23, the snowpack was at 99% of the median, though it has begun to rebound since its decline last week. And an impending storm set to begin Monday afternoon, April 24, and into Tuesday — as well as a second likely beginning Friday — could slow the pace of snowmelt and even raise levels, albeit briefly.
“Looks like a pretty healthy accumulation of snow, maybe not the season’s biggest, but definitely something to add to our snowpack,” said National Weather Service meteorologist David Barjenbruch of the incoming system.
Barjenbruch said the main brunt of the storm, expected to arrive later on Tuesday, April 25, could lead to snow accumulation of between 6 and 12 inches in the county. The system is expected to bring wetter snow than past storms bringing with it anywhere from a half inch to a full inch of water, Barjenbruch said.
That could mean a roughly 12 to 1 precipitation ratio, according to Barjenbruch. Snow considered to be dry would have a roughly 30 to 1 ratio, while wet snow would be closer to 10 to 1.
A second storm looming on Friday could also bring sizable snow dumps to the area. According to a 10-day forecast from OpenSnow, the county’s remaining open ski destinations — Breckenridge Ski Resort, Copper Mountain Resort and Arapahoe Basin Ski Area — could see between 11 and 18 inches.
And all of that is coming after a weekend of snow already engulfed the county.
“Saturday was a legitimate powder day across the northern and central mountains,” wrote OpenSnow founder and meteorologist Joel Gratz, in an April 23 post.
Gratz wrote that Wednesday morning “should be the time for the deepest snow,” though that will differ between the east and west sides of the Continental Divide, according to both Gratz and Barjenbruch.
While that could cause snowpack levels in the county’s higher-elevation areas to rebound, it’s likely to be brief, Barjenbruch said.
“We’re pretty much on the decline for our snowpack,” he added.
Despite an above-average season for snowfall — one that saw several back-to-back storms and an extension of the ski season — Summit County’s snowpack was still well behind some of the record highs of other regions, such as Steamboat Springs in northern Colorado.
For that reason, Barjenbruch said he does not foresee the imminent runoff to be drastically different from its average flow. Runoff may even be below average for areas that saw consistently lagging snowpack in the county, such as Hoosier Pass, according to Barjenbruch.
Summit County-based rafting guides, while predicting a good river season, don’t expect flow levels to be “super high” for the Arkansas River.
Peak runoff is usually expected in late May or early June, Barjenbruch said, though unpredictable weather can either delay or expedite that timeline.
While Barjenbruch said heightened flood risk in the county isn’t likely, he added that runoff water is extremely cold and its flow levels can easily vary.
“So just mind yourself around the fast-moving waters,” Barjenbruch said.
Reflecting on a season that saw several surprise powder days and a reprieve from statewide drought, Barjenbruch said Summit County experienced a mix of weather outcomes.
“I think it’s been a unique year, overall, with regards to how the snowpack has evolved over the course of the winter,” he said. “It seems like Summit County was right on the edge of all of those big storms we saw this winter.”
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