Summit County’s first spring snowstorm brings promise of more mud than powder |

Summit County’s first spring snowstorm brings promise of more mud than powder

Frisco resident Jessie Burley walks with her dog Xena Friday morning, April 6, on the Recreational Pathway in Frisco.
Hugh Carey /

A veritable floating river of moisture is roaring through the mountains this weekend as the high country experiences its first real spring snowstorm. Higher elevations in the northern mountains may see up to 12-18 inches, but warmer air may disappoint folks in Summit and the lower mountain valleys with lots of rain and mud.

Joel Gratz of reports that two waves of moisture will roll through the high country over the next few days. The first wave was already underway Friday, dropping mostly wet snow above 9,000 feet and rain below. The slushy wintry mix will continue through Friday night and Saturday morning. Temperatures will warm up and showers will fall up and down the continental divide, with only a few flakes at extremely high elevations.

But Saturday night, Gratz said, is when the real fun will start, when a weather anomaly brings “an incredible storm” to the mountains. A precipitation wave stretching all the way from Hawaii will roll into the high country, bringing in 400 percent more moisture than average this time of year.

However, because of the warmer temperatures throughout the day, Gratz predicts there will be mostly rain at elevations less than 10,000-11,000 feet. To strike white gold, skiers will need to head up as high and north as they can get for colder temperatures and fluffier powder.

By Sunday morning, temperatures will cool down and the snow level will drop down to 9,000-10,000 feet, meaning most of Summit will see some snow stick around. Gratz expects colder air to rush back in Sunday night through Monday morning, with 2-6 inches in the northern mountains. Again though, Summit will probably see minimal powder sticking around below the very high elevations.

While there might not be a whole lot of snow here in Summit, the precipitation is still welcome news to the state as a whole, as Colorado experienced its third driest winter on record, with state snowpack levels at 66 percent of normal. Wildfire warnings will be coming early this summer as brush dries out quickly heading into June and July.

Looking forward, long-term forecasters have been frustrated in their predictions by the fact that weather patterns known as El Niño and La Niña are in a neutral phase called El Niño Southern Oscillation. The irregularity of this phenomenon brings unexpected temperature and pressure changes and throws off predictability of moisture movement from the Pacific. As of now, the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center offers a bleak picture for Colorado with lower precipitation and higher temperatures over the next three months, but confidence in that outlook is low as conditions change week to week.

For Summit, that may mean an erratic spring and late summer monsoon season that will bring plenty of surprises.

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