‘Very active’ weather pattern descends on Summit County this week, building on above-average May precipitation, snowpack levels | SummitDaily.com

‘Very active’ weather pattern descends on Summit County this week, building on above-average May precipitation, snowpack levels

Increased rainfall and heightened snowpack levels could dampen wildfire risks this summer. But experts say it’s still too soon to know for sure.

Storm clouds roll over Loveland Ski area and the Continental Divide from a vantage point near Loveland Pass on Sunday, May 7, 2023. Though last year saw a drier than average spring, consistent rainfall led to a strong monsoon season that alleviated wildfire concerns. With 2023 seeing an above-average May for precipitation and heightened snowpack in the county, it could lead to another wet summer.
Andrew Maciejewski/Summit Daily News

With snowpack levels on the decline, Summit County could still continue to see an abundance of moisture thanks to recurring rain showers predicted to last through Friday, May 19. 

The month has continued to garner above-average precipitation that, combined with strong snowpack and potentially heightened spring runoff, could dampen wildfire risks heading into the summer — though experts caution it’s still too early to know for certain. 

National Weather Service meteorologist David Barjenbruch said Summit is likely to see rain showers, thunderstorms and even the potential for lightning in the afternoons and evenings through Friday. In total, the county could see an average inch of rainfall this week, Barjenbruch said.

“I would say it does look very active,” Barjenbruch said. “Getting wet during the afternoon or evening hours is a distinct possibility.” 

Elevations above about 11,000 feet are likely to maintain snow and could see some fresh dustings, Barjenbruch said. But even high-elevation peaks aren’t predicted to accumulate more than a few inches this week. 

Temperatures are expected to be warmer but still seasonable, with Barjendruch adding that the county’s towns could see highs of 60 degrees while higher elevations will hover around 40 and 50. 

Barjenbruch said it’s still possible for the county to see large snowfall but added, “Right now it looks like we’re staying in a pattern that’s not going to be conducive to any major snow event,” at least not in the valley areas. 

The county has been at around 130% of the 30-year median for precipitation for the month of May, according to Senior Service Hydrologist Aldis Strautins. Last May, the county was between 105-110% of the average, Strautins said. 

That comes after a below-average April for precipitation, something that was also true last year, according to Strautins.

“Last April was just dismal for the whole state,” Strautins said, adding that the county was between 75 and 85% of the average in April 2022. This April may have been even drier, with preliminary weather service data showing it at around 65-70% of the average.

Still, despite a dryer spring, summer 2022 saw a healthy dose of consistent rainfall that defined it as a “pretty good monsoon year,” according to one climate expert. Last calendar year, a weather station in Breckenridge recorded 27.1 inches of precipitation, 5 inches more than the official normal of 21.77 inches, according to weather service data. 

And this year, the county is heading into summer with even more moisture thanks to snowpack that was well above 2022’s levels and mosty held above the 30-year median. According to United States Department of Agriculture data as of May 15, snowpack is at 105% of the average for the Blue River Basin, which includes all of Summit County. 

Consistently strong snowpack, which indicates how much water is contained in snow, brought drought relief across the state this season, with nearly half of Colorado drought-free in February, according to a U.S. Drought Monitor report. 

The most recent report, which contains data from May 9, shows roughly two-thirds of the state now experiencing some level of abnormal dryness or moderate drought. 

With more rain and the potential for more snowmelt this spring, Strautins said it could help mitigate wildfire concerns early in the summer season. 

“If you have better moisture, that helps the plants have more moisture, and the fuels for the fire are not as dry,” Strautins said.

But how long the above-average precipitation will last is unclear. According to Barjenbruch, long-range forecasts show the summer has an “equal chance” of being above or below the average rainfall. 

And if snow melts too fast it could pose problems for the county later into the summer as temperatures heat up and the landscape becomes drier, Barjenbruch said.

“If we can keep the snow on the ground longer, that’s all the better for diminishing and shortening the fire season,” he said. 

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