Snowpack levels in Colorado’s high country still looking strong
EAGLE COUNTY — Think it’s been unseasonably warm? So do the walkers and runners out on the recreation paths, the fly fishermen in the Eagle River and the skiers cruising down the mountain in short-sleeves.
March weather data shows that this winter has brought stretches of higher-than-average temperatures and that mid-March has had the thermometer at or near all-time record highs for the month. The highest recorded temperatures for Vail in March are in the mid-50s, which are similar to what Eagle County has been seeing the past few days. Typically, average March temperatures are closer to the mid-40s, according to National Weather Service data.
According to SNOTEL information gathered on Vail Mountain, the record mid-March high for the last 30 years was 56 degrees in 1995, with several other very warm Marches in 2011 and 1999. March 15 of this year was very close to those record highs, with a max temperature of 53 degrees. However, Monday could break that record, with the forecast calling for a high of 56.
“Essentially we’re under a ridge of high pressure, meaning there’s a bubble of warm air in the atmosphere over us,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Ben Moyer. “In fact, most of Colorado is seeing high temperatures. On Monday, Denver is at 69, and Pueblo is in the lower 80s.”
However, as National Weather Service data acquisition program manager John Kyle points out, this winter has not only brought warm highs, but also a good number of very cold days.
Dec. 14 was a record warm day, as were a few days in February, Kyle said. However, there was also a record low day recorded around New Year, and the first week of March was colder than the historical average.
“Minus the latter part of December and a couple brief days, it looks like it was a warmer than normal winter, and that was the case for most of the Western Slope,” said Kyle.
Snowpack still OK
The good news is that snowpack levels are still looking strong, ranging from 83 percent of the average snow water equivalent to 113 percent of average at the Eagle River headwaters at Fremont Pass to 107 percent on Copper Mountain.
“The (snow water equivalent) took a huge hit on Vail Mountain between Sunday and Monday, but Fremont and Copper held tight. Does that cause concern? Yes, but there’s still a good month of winter left,” said Diane Johnson, of the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District.
Snowpack affects reservoir levels, fire danger for later months and river levels. Mountain residents should certainly be concerned about stream flow levels, but Johnson said it’s too early to tell if the local waterways will be normal or suffering come spring.
“A few years ago, we were saved by end-of-winter storms after a very poor snow season,” she said. “Even if we get snow in late April and May like we did in 2013, it can really help our situation here.”
As far as precipitation, the predictions are positive. The outlook from the Colorado Climate Center calls for higher than average chance of precipitation during the next few weeks, although it is also calling for higher than average temperatures.
Digging out summer gear
The warm temperatures have locals digging out their summer gear. Bruce Kelly, owner of Pedal Power bike shop in Eagle-Vail, said he’s seen business pick up in the last week.
“The locals get spoiled, so when the skiing gets monotonous, maybe a week or more without snow, they stop skiing and the enthusiastic cyclists start riding,” Kelly said.
“We’re seeing a little bit of everything, from full tunes to new (gear). If the weather stays this way, I’m guessing by Friday I’ll really be in the weeds.”
While he appreciates the uptick in business, he said he’s worried when he sees the snow melting so early.
“We struggle with that, because it’s important for our business that the resort has a good ski season,” Kelly said. “We want the ski season and the busiest times of the year keeping the locals busy, otherwise those people aren’t spending money on bicycle stuff come spring. It’s not like we’re sitting here hoping for warm weather in March.”
Gypsum resident and longtime local Ken Hoeve said that the temperatures have been bizarre, but he’s taking it as it comes. During the past few days, he’s stand-up paddleboarded, kayaked and fly-fished.
“There have been a couple days I’ve snowboarded and paddled the same day,” he said. “The lucky thing is that the mountain is still seeing fun spring skiing conditions, but the Gypsum golf course is open at the same time. There’s still time (for the snow to come). I feel like you just need to embrace what’s here, whether it’s snow or warm temperatures.”
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