This January one of the driest since ’34
Snow arrived just in the nick of time Thursday to prevent this month from becoming the driest January ever in Aspen.
Until Thursday, only 4.5 inches of snow had fallen in town all month, according to data collected by the Aspen Water Plant as well as local weather watcher Jim Markalunas. Before this latest burst, snow had fallen only three days this month.
“This is probably one of the poorest Januarys on record,” Markalunas said.
He’s right. Less than 10 inches of snow have fallen for the entire month only three times since 1934-35, the first year that Aspen began collecting weather data.
Five inches of snow fell in 1961. January 1974 saw only 6.5 inches of the white stuff, according to city records. The last time the snow gods were so stingy was 1981, when 9.9 inches of snow fell.
The snowpack in the upper Roaring Fork River basin was 101 percent of average heading into January, according to the snow survey by the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service. As of Thursday, it had dropped to 81 percent. A computerized site measures snow/water content at the 10,600-foot elevation on Independence Pass.
Thanks to snow on Thursday and more in the forecast before January ends Wednesday, it appears Aspen will creep past the double-digit inch mark for the month. It still could end up being one of the five driest months of January in 66 years, although a big storm could make the snowfall amount respectable.
For the record, January 1957 is the record bounty for the month. Nearly six feet of snow fell that month. In more recent times, January 1997 was impressive with 44.75 inches of snow.
January is typically one of Aspen’s snowiest months. The 66-year average for snowfall is 25.2 inches at the water plant, placing it behind only March. Higher snow amounts fall on the ski slopes because of higher elevations.
While locals aren’t getting their powder fixes, snow conditions have held up well, considering the circumstances. Record snowfall in November and regular shots in December built a solid base.
“The groomers have been doing a hell of a job with the 30 to 40 inches [of base] they’ve had to work with for some time,” said Rob Baxter, mountain manager at Snowmass Ski Area. “We were skiing on the December layer.”
While Baxter lamented that the number of storms in January could be counted on one hand, he also holds out hope that Aspen/Snowmass is back in a more normal – read wetter – weather pattern.
“We are not far from having excellent conditions with another foot or 18 inches,” said Baxter.
That’s what it will take to get some of Snowmass’ steeper runs open. The ski area had 2,392 out of 3,010 acres open as of Thursday.
Baxter reported that three inches had fallen on the upper half of the mountain as of 2 p.m. Thursday.
“There are some smiles up here, but everybody knows it needs to keep coming,” he said.
For the month, only eight inches of snow had fallen up on the mountain at Snowmass as of Thursday afternoon. Only six inches had graced Aspen Mountain during January.
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Had Hailey Swirbul decided against going to Europe, she would not have finished with a career-best result in Friday’s World Cup opener. Yes, there was a time, and not long ago, when the U.S. ski team member and Roaring Fork Valley native questioned her desire to put on a race bib.