High Country snowpack lags, but it’s early

Area will need steady storms to keep up with 30-year averages

Scott N. Miller
Vail Daily
Trees were coated Friday in Vail after the first big dump of the season. Snowpack this season is lagging behind normal levels, but there’s still time to catch up.
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

The bad news is that area snowpack is unsurprisingly below 30-year averages. The good news is that the numbers can get better quickly at this point in the season.

According Becky Bolinger, assistant state Climatologist at the Colorado Climate Center, the current snowpack sits at 75% of normal in the upper Colorado River drainage, which includes Summit County.

That’s actually good news, Bolinger wrote in an email. The snowpack sat at 59% of normal just a week ago, before a major storm rolled through the area Dec. 9-10.

“One storm can make a pretty good dent in the deficits this early in the season,” Bolinger wrote. “We are currently seeing a 1-inch snowpack deficit, which could be made up with one or two good storms.”

There’s a chance there could be enough snow to erase the current deficits in the next several days.

According to the forecasters at, the Summit area could see 2-8 inches of snow through the rest of this week.

While making up the current shortfalls is a matter of just a couple of well-timed storms, it gets more difficult to make up a deficit later in the season.

Colorado has a decent chance of above-average precipitation between Dec. 25 and Jan. 7.
U.S. Climate Prediction Center/Courtesy map

Better now than February

“When we get to February, if you’re at 75% of normal, that is a lot more difficult to make up,” Bolinger wrote.

“We do have more snow accumulations on the horizon, but it’s difficult to say if that will be enough to bring us up to average,” Bolinger wrote. “And then we need a consistent storm pattern to keep up with that average.”

Clouds sometimes need a little help to squeeze out the moisture they’re carrying. That’s where cloud seeding comes into play.

Mike Eytel is the senior water resource specialist at the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water Conservation District.

Eytel said this season’s cloud-seeding program, which started in November, has fired up the seeding generators perhaps five times in those few weeks, depending on how a storm is tracking and if the clouds are the right kind to produce precipitation

Those generators fire silver idodide crystals into clouds. Those crystals make water droplets heavy enough to fall out of clouds as either rain or snow, depending on the season. Generators are scattered throughout the area, with one at the top of Beaver Creek and another at Camp Hale.

That season will continue into April, Eytel said.

Meteorologists don’t forecast with confidence more than about a week out. But there’s some potential good news from the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center.

For the period between Dec. 25 and Jan. 7, the models show an above-average chance for above-normal precipitation and roughly normal temperatures. The three-month outlook isn’t as optimistic, calling for equal chances of above- and below-normal precipitation and a chance for above-normal temperatures.

The Climate Prediction Center’s website notes that North America is expected to see a La Nina weather pattern through the winter.

That pattern originates in the equatorial Pacific Ocean about 1,000 miles west of South America. A La Nina pattern has cooler than normal water temperatures in that area, and storms from that pattern usually affect the Pacific Northwest and, to a lesser extent, the northern Colorado Rockies.

Then there’s El Nino

Conversely, an El Nino pattern stems from warmer-than-average temperatures in the same part of the Pacific. Storms in El Nino seasons tend to come into North America from the south and can affect the southern Colorado Rockies.

Put simply, El Nino patterns are most likely to benefit the Wolf Creek ski area and the Front Range. Winters with a La Nina pattern are more likely to benefit Steamboat and, to a lesser extent, the resorts in Eagle and Summit counties.

So we just need to keep an eye on the forecast and see what develops.

“It looks a lot better this week than it did last week, but we’re still not out of the woods yet,” Bolinger wrote. “It will take some big storms to keep us within reach of a near normal peak snowpack. But we do still have that time, so it is possible.”

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