Drought conditions persist across most of the Western Slope
January 5, 2018
EAGLE COUNTY — It’s official: Most of the Western Slope is in some sort of drought.
The latest map released by the U.S. Drought Monitor shows virtually all of Eagle County in what’s called a “moderate” drought. The southwest corner of the state is mostly in “severe” drought conditions, while the northwest corner of the state is “abnormally dry.”
The story of just how dry our area is told on U.S. Department of Agriculture graphs from the Snotel snow measurement sites on Vail Mountain, at Copper Mountain and on Fremont Pass. The Copper Mountain site is the closest official measurement site to Shrine Pass, the headwaters of Gore Creek. The Fremont Pass site is the closest to the nearby headwaters of the Eagle River.
At Vail Mountain, the snowpack on Tuesday, Jan. 2, was just 2.8 inches of snow water equivalent. That’s 36 percent of the normal snowpack for that date, a number below even that recorded in the record drought year of 2011-12.
The terrain has changed at the Vail Mountain site over the past few years. The site used to be in an aspen grove, but those trees are now gone. Still, there isn’t much snow.
The news is somewhat better at Copper Mountain. There, the Jan. 2 reading was 4 inches of snow water equivalent, 71 percent of the 30-year median and significantly better than the record-low season.
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At Fremont Pass, the snow water equivalent is 6.6 inches, 92 percent of the 30-year median.
The good news is there’s still a lot of snow season left. Snowpack generally peaks in mid-April.
THE BAD NEWS
The bad news is there doesn’t seem to be much precipitation in the immediate future.
The National Weather Service forecast for Vail shows some snow starting Saturday, Jan. 6, and moving out Sunday, Jan. 7.
At the Open Snow website, meteorologist Joel Gratz’s forecast calls for between three and six inches of fresh snow along the Interstate 70 corridor, with another chance of snow starting Wednesday, Jan. 10.
Meteorologists don’t forecast more than seven to 10 days in advance, but the U.S. Climate Prediction Center does provide maps with the likelihood of temperatures and precipitation.
According to the most recent maps, the next 90 days show the possibility of warmer-than-average temperatures. There’s a roughly even chance of average precipitation for this part of Colorado, with a slightly lower-than-average chance of below-average precipitation just to the south.
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, email@example.com and @scottnmiller.