Midweek snowstorm likely to bring flurries, but little change, to Summit County’s snowpack levels | SummitDaily.com

Midweek snowstorm likely to bring flurries, but little change, to Summit County’s snowpack levels

Colder snow system means less water, experts say. But it's still too early to know how levels will hold up.

The last bit of sunlight lights up a lenticular cloud forming over Mount Sniktau near Loveland Pass on Saturday, Dec 17, 2022. A midweek storm is expected to bring several inches of snow to Summit County but have little impact on snowpack levels.
Andrew Maciejewski/Summit Daily News

A snowstorm beginning Wednesday, Dec. 21, will likely bring several inches of snow to Summit County. But it will have little impact on the county’s snow-water equivalent levels, which indicates the water content held in the snow.

According to a Monday, Dec. 19, report from OpenSnow — run by Boulder-based meteorologist Joel Gratz — about 6 inches of snow is expected to accumulate by Thursday at Breckenridge Ski Resort, Keystone Resort and Arapahoe Basin Ski Area. About 7 inches of snow is expected for Copper Mountain Resort during that same time.

“Wednesday night will be when we’ll see the storm bring intense snow and fast wind,” Gratz wrote in his report. “By Thursday morning, most northern and central mountains should measure 4-10 inches of wind-affected snow.”

According to the National Weather Service office in Boulder, a wind chill watch will be in effect from Wednesday evening through Friday morning for areas including Summit County. The weather service said “dangerously cold wind chills” as low as 50 degrees below zero could be possible, according to a Monday report.

A colder storm like that typically translates to fluffier powder, according to Aldis Strautins, senior service hydrologist for the National Weather Service office in Grand Junction. Strautins said that bodes well for ski conditions, but it will not add much water to current snowpack, which experts are closely monitoring.

“That tells us how much water we could have in the springtime with the runoff to help fill our reservoirs,” Strautins said, who added this week will see “a pretty cold system, so I would expect there’ll be less water content with the snow.”

According to data from the Natural Resources and Conservation Service, snow water levels for the Blue River Basin — which includes areas of Summit County — are slightly up for this time of year. Monday data shows the basin at 106% of the 30-year median.

But within the county, snowpack levels are varied based on area, according to Monday data. 

Summit Ranch is at 111%, in addition to Copper at 104%, Grizzly Peak at 92%, Fremont Pass at 80% and Hoosier Pass at 60%.

According to Strautins, those differences are all dependent on location. Areas east of the Continental Divide, such as Hoosier, have seen fewer storms than areas on the other side of the ridge, such as Copper. 

Strautins said he expects water levels to increase with spring snowfalls, which he said “have more water content because it’s a little bit warmer and warmer air holds more moisture in it.”

James Heath, engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources, said while “we’re not going to lose any snow water accumulation,” this week’s storm likely won’t add much either. 

Still, experts said it remains too early in the season to predict where snow water levels will stand. But Heath said the current data shows a positive trend.

“We’ve got a decent start to the year,” Heath said, “and hopefully we continue on this upward trajectory where we stick above normal or around normal for the rest of the winter.”

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