After a warm, sunny start to March, Western Colorado may start to return to a more seasonal weather pattern this week.
Jim Pringle, a forecaster at the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, said we could start to see those changes by Wednesday or Thursday of this week. That initial storm system could bring as much as an inch of precipitation to some parts of the Western Slope, Pringle said, adding that Vail’s moisture total won’t approach the peaks.
Most of the moisture from the mid-week storm is expected to fall in the higher elevations of the San Juan Mountains and the Grand Mesa.
Still, a quarter-inch of precipitation could bring a few inches of new snow, at least at higher elevations.
The big change is set to come Friday, when the forecast brings snow and rain to virtually the entire state.
Moisture will be especially welcome east of the Continental Divide. Wildfires have started to hit that part of the state, and the U.S. Drought Monitor website shows moderate drought conditions through essentially all of Eastern Colorado.
Pringle said that Friday storm could bring several inches of snow to the Vail area.
COOLER TEMPS WELCOME
That snow will be welcome, both for play and our summer’s water supply.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s graphs of snow water equivalent in the area show snowpack is still running significantly ahead of the 30-year median, thanks to plentiful snow from early December into February. But some of the snow measurement sites have shown erosion of the snowpack.
The biggest drop in the past week has been at the snow measurement site on Vail Mountain. That site has changed in the past couple of years. The measurement devices are in the same spot, but the trees that once sheltered the equipment are gone, leaving the site exposed to sun and wind.
The sun, along with daytime high temperatures well into the 40s, has eaten into the snow water equivalent at the Vail site. Snow at the site contained roughly 20.3 inches of water as of March 13. That number had fallen to 16.8 inches on Monday.
The story is better at Fremont Pass, near the Eagle River’s headwaters. There, the snow water equivalent at the measurement site remained constant at 15.7 inches between March 13 and Monday.
The snow fields on Vail Mountain, near Vail Pass and near Fremont Pass all serve as the area’s water storage. Lots of snow and a slow runoff season are critical to maintain domestic water supplies.
At the moment, there’s a solid supply of water in all that snow.
But in an email, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District Communications Manager Diane Johnson wrote, “These warm temperatures need to go!”