Did Summit County’s snow year already peak? Recent warm spell causes sharp decline in snowpack as historical melting point nears.
The Blue River Basin hasn't seen it's snowpack decline at a rate similar to this past week since 2017, but long-range forecasts give hope that Summit's snow will stick around or remain above average
Bluebird skies and temperatures in the 50s this past week caused a sharp decline in snowpack levels for Summit County following above-average snowfall in the past six months.
With just a few days until the Blue River Basin hits its historical high point on April 18, the recent decline nearly evaporated Summit County’s above-average snowfall earlier in the year, which was brought on by consistent snowstorms and below average temperatures. At points, the local snowpack reached well above the 120% mark, but the Blue River Basin’s snowpack, which encompasses all of Summit County, is sitting at 101% of the 30-year median.
The sharp decline is the largest drop in Summit County’s snowpack ahead of April 18, the date when snowpack levels typically begin a sustained declining pattern, since 2017, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture reports.
Since the last major snowstorm on April 2, levels dropped 12 percentage points, from 113% of the 30-year median level to just 101%.
The rapid decline began Tuesday as temperatures hit 52 degrees and the sun beat down on the county for a majority of the day, according to reports collected from a weather station above 10,500 feet elevation at Copper Mountain Resort. Wednesday saw similar weather with clear skies and temperatures nearing 50 degrees.
Though a similar drop occurred in 2017, that year saw the snowpack rebound significantly after the historic peak snowpack date. Snowstorms are common all the way into June, like last year’s storm near Memorial Day weekend which boosted the snowpack above average levels.
The National Weather Service predicts 4 inches of snow to fall by Saturday night, which is expected to boost Summit County’s snowpack ahead of another dry period, but temperatures aren’t expected to exceed 50 degrees like the last dry stint.
OpenSnow founder and meteorologist Joel Gratz says there’s potential for even higher totals by Saturday night, but he said the models show some uncertainty in their predictions.
“In an uncertain situation like this, the best advice that I can give is the same thing I do myself — plan for the possibility of legitimate powder late on Friday or more likely on Saturday morning if the upside forecasts come true, and keep an eye on the snow stakes to see how things shake out,” Gratz said. “The best conditions will be where we can get the most snow to cover the currently firm/crusty snow.”
According to OpenSnow.com, another storm system with a potential to drop powder in the mountains is expected to hit Wednesday. A string of storms that could last until Sunday, April 23, could bring an extra 15 inches of snow to many of Summit County’s ski areas.
“It is too soon to know which mountains will be favored or which days will bring the most snow,” Gratz wrote in his daily blog Friday. “While the warm sunshine of the past few days has been enjoyable, I am glad that we will likely have an extended period of colder temperatures and more snow, which will slow the snowmelt.”
The seven-day and one-month forecasts for Summit County look promising for retaining the water content stored up in the high-Alpine areas. Both call for average to below-average temperatures and average precipitation.
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