Snowfall totals the lowest since 2001-2002 drought
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — December 2011 was the eighth-driest on record in Breckenridge, where weather watcher Rick Bly recorded only 7.6 inches of snow for the month, compared to more than 20 inches on average.
Last year, Bly tallied 32.5 inches of snow in December. Click here to see all of last year’s December weather stats.
The totals were even worse at the National Weather Service site Dillon, where Denver Water personnel measured a meager 1.5 inches of snow, amounting to 0.10 inches of moisture — one of the driest Decembers on record. The average December snowfall at Dillon is 17.5 inches, with a snow-water equivalent of 1.11 inches. Last year the Dillon site reported about 23 inches of snow in December.
The last time Summit County experienced conditions this dry during the first part of the winter was in 2001, the lead-in period to a severe drought the following year, which went down in the books as a record-breaking 500-year dry event.
For the weather year to-date (starting Oct. 1), snowfall in Breckenridge is at 34.8 inches, compared to the historic average of 55.6 inches. The snow-water equivalent for the year is 3.33 inches, about 23 percent below the average 4.28 inches.
A dry start doesn’t correlate statistically to any particular trend the rest of the season, said Bly, who looked at the records going back more than 100 years and found 17 Decembers with less than 10 inches of snow. In those years, the rest of the winter (January through April) ended up above average six times, below average five times and right around average six times.
Long-range climate predictions are still calling for equal to slightly better than equal chances for above normal precipitation the rest of the winter, based on persistent La Niña conditions in the Pacific Ocean.
Average January snowfall in Breckenridge is 22.4 inches. The snowiest year on record was 1899, with 80.2 inches and the driest January was in 1966, with only 3 inches of snow. In recent times, January 1996 delivered more than 71 inches, while the dry winter of 1980 -1981 saw only 6 inches during the month.
Temperatures at the Dillon site were slightly above average, with the average maximum daily high at 33.2 degrees (normal, 32.6 degrees). The average daily low temperature was 1.4 degrees, just 0.10 above average.
The high temperature for the month was 47 degrees, reached on Dec. 1 and again on Dec. 19. Temps climbed to freezing or above on all but eight days, with lows dropping below zero 14 times during the month.