Low snow not yet cause for concern but that could change, meteorologists say
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – The Yampa Valley has seen a late start to its famous winter season, but weather experts said that still has time to change, and it’s too early for serious concern.
Steamboat Springs received about 6 inches of snow Monday night and is expected to get at least another 6 inches over the next few days, said Joel Gratz, founding meteorologist at opensnow.com.
“That’s definitely in the positive direction,” he said, adding Steamboat residents and visitors should expect to see more snow throughout the rest of the week, and the city could be looking at more than a foot of snow by Saturday. “We had a super unlucky start.”
The northern U.S. is expected to see a La Niña weather pattern this winter, meaning heavier snow and colder temperatures are expected, and other experts said that expected snow could arrive in infrequent but large storms.
“The reality is we can get a few big storms throughout the winter that can make a difference,” said Kelly Romero-Heaney, Steamboat water resources manager. “It’s December. There is a whole winter of possibilities before us.”
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Snowpack in Steamboat is currently on track with what it was in 2018, one of the worst winters on-record in the past several decades, Romero-Heaney said. But it’s far too soon to make a prediction about Steamboat’s spring and summer drought, though Colorado is under a statewide drought.
“What can really matter is how soon runoff happens,” she said, adding the quickness of a runoff will help determine how dry spring and summer will be. “For example, we had a pretty good snowpack year last year, but spring runoff happened so soon, and then we didn’t get very much precipitation throughout the summer.”
Jim Pokrandt, community affairs director at Colorado River Water Conservation District, said while it is still a bit too early to make predictions for next year, “the clock is ticking” and low snow can cause severe problems in the months to come.
“It’s a large concern because what’s happened is we’ve had two dry summers in a row and that’s really dried out the soils,” he said, adding Colorado’s economic reliance on snow for recreation also requires much more snow than what the state has received so far.
Colorado has been in a long-term drought since 2000, he said, adding that 2002 and 2018 were the worst the state had seen in the past 20 years, but the snowfall so far is matched only by 2002.
“It’s still early, but if we don’t get a nice turnaround by January, we’ll need to be weary,” he added.
Pokrandt said La Niña seasons typically impact the northernmost parts of a state, meaning Steamboat is more likely to reap the benefits of heavier snow than other parts of Colorado.
“Let’s really hope we can do some catching up,” he said.
As for recreation in Steamboat being impacted by low snow, Romero-Heaney said it’s unlikely Howelsen Hill and Steamboat Resort will have issues making snow from the Yampa River.
To reach Alison Berg, call 970-871-4229 or email aberg@SteamboatPilot.com.
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