After December ‘snowmageddon,’ Mother Nature turned off Aspen’s tap |

After December ‘snowmageddon,’ Mother Nature turned off Aspen’s tap

Meteorologists fear dry spell will dominate February as well

Walkers take their dogs around Rio Grande Park in Aspen on an overcast day on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Where’s the snow? That’s what powder hounds are barking as the tap abruptly turned off after a particularly snowy period at the end of December.

In January, Aspen Mountain managed to collect just 25 inches of snow, according to the snow calendar kept by, a forecasting service focused on the upper Roaring Fork Valley. So far in February, it’s snowed less than 8 inches on the slopes of Ajax.

“As I mentioned a few days ago, the dryness of January really didn’t bother me because we had ‘Ski Resort Snowmageddon’ in late December,” meteorologist Cory Gates wrote in his Feb. 8 report. “The dryness of this February I didn’t expect. It bothers the living hell out of me.”

He is forecasting February to be below normal for snowfall. “It’s just a matter of how much below normal,” he wrote.

The dry spell is disappointing to skiers and riders because Aspen Mountain received 64.5 inches of fresh snow between Dec. 24-31. That included three days of double-digit dumps.

A skier jumps off a hit at Aspen Highlands during a snowstorm on Dec. 28. Highlands received 10 inches that night, according to Aspen Snowmass, and snow continued to fall that week. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Sam Collentine, chief operating officer and meteorologist for skier-oriented forecasting service OpenSnow, called 2021-22 a “winter of extremes.”

“Following very dry conditions for much of December, we received record snowfall in late December and early January,” he wrote in an email to The Aspen Times. “Since then, we’ve been locked into a weather pattern that has either pushed all of the storm energy north into Canada and eventually into the eastern half of the U.S. or we have received cold and moisture-starved storms that slid down the spine of the Rockies from Canada and deliver a few inches of fluffy snow, at best.”

He said there are two periods that could potentially bring higher snowfall levels to the Aspen area, one on Feb. 16 and one on Feb. 23, but there are no promises.

“These mid-winter weather patterns are just incredibly hard to break down, and it might take a change of the seasons with a higher sun angle and shorter wavelengths in the atmosphere for storms to finally push through the West Coast and into Colorado, as we saw in late December and early January,” Collentine said.

Skiing conditions have held up well thanks to timely spurts of two inches of snow here, four inches there over the past six weeks. Collentine noted that the light refreshes and cold temperatures have maintained grippy corduroy and chalky steeps at the four Aspen-Snowmass ski areas.

“The dryness of this February I didn’t expect. It bothers the living hell out of me.” — Cory Gates, Aspen Weather

Off the ski slopes and at the lower elevation of the Aspen water plant, 19.35 inches of snow was recorded in January. That was about 75% of the average of 25.82 inches.

There were only four days of snow and total snowfall of 3.7 inches during the last three weeks of the month, according to the records from the water plant, which is a National Weather Service station.

The once promising snowpack totals in the Roaring Fork watershed are fading but generally still strong. The snowpack on Independence Pass was down to 90% of average as of Wednesday morning, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The Fryingpan and Crystal river valleys are faring better. Schofield Pass was at 130% of average, while North Lost Trail outside of Marble was at 127% as of Wednesday. McClure Pass, at a lower elevation, was down to 85%.

In the Fryingpan, the Ivanhoe site was at 128% of average, while Kiln was at 120%.

The Colorado River headwaters region, which includes the Roaring Fork watershed, was at 106% of average as of Feb. 1, according to a report issued Wednesday by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The dry weather has implications beyond ski conditions. Ongoing drought can affect snowmelt runoff because soils are so dry. That can reduce the amount of water reaching rivers and streams, according to NRCS hydrologist Karl Wetlaufer.

Reservoirs are also lower than usual because of dry conditions last year. The median reservoir storage is at 82%.

The story of this winter is still to be written. The NRCS said in its report on Wednesday that Colorado is generally at about 60% of median peak accumulation of snowpack. The peak typically occurs in early April.