November was warm and dry in Summit County but not an anomaly

Riders on the American Eagle lift are pictured Nov. 22 at Copper Mountain Resort. The resort recorded 31 inches of snow in November.
Curtis DeVore/Copper Mountain Resort

November is a hit-or-miss snow month, and while this year’s weather wasn’t the best for ski season in Summit County, it also wasn’t the worst.

Looking back at the past five years, Summit County ski areas saw low snow totals in November this year, but the snow totals aren’t an anomaly for the month.

Copper Mountain Resort has been all over the map in terms of November snow totals in the past five years, with its lowest November snow total being 13 inches in 2019 and its highest being 58 inches in 2018, according to spokesperson Taylor Prather. This year, it recorded 31 inches of snow in November.

Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, which is often the first Summit County ski area to open for the season, also saw its lowest November snow total in the past five years in 2019 with 15 inches, according to reports from Open Snow. This year, November brought 28 inches to the ski area.

With sporadic natural snow levels in November, ski areas have long relied on snowmaking to open terrain in the early season. However, this season, ski areas have struggled to make snow due to unseasonably high temperatures.

“In past seasons, we have been able to open more terrain on opening day; however, the warmer temps have made snowmaking more difficult,” Copper spokesperson Olivia Butrymovich wrote in an email Nov. 23, just after the ski area opened to the public.

According to the National Weather Service almanac, the Dillon weather station recorded 5.5 inches of new snow throughout the month of November, which is well below the 14.6 inch normal. Temperatures were also above normal in November with the average high temperature coming out to 46.4 degrees. That compares to the normal high temperature of 41.1. The average low temperature in November was 6 degrees higher than the month’s normal low temperature.

While temperatures were above average, only one high temperature record was set throughout the month. The two warmest days of the month, Nov. 7 and 8, reached a high temperature of 59 degrees. Neither day’s temperature beat previous records of 63 and 64 degrees set in 1954 and 1999, respectively. However, Tuesday, Nov. 30, did break the high temperature record for that particular day with 55 degrees. That bested a three-way tie for the previous high temperature record for the date: 53 degrees set in 1950, 1986 and 1999.

Graphic by Taylor Sienkiewicz/Summit Daily News

National Weather Service meteorologist Ayesha Wilkinson said chances for precipitation are low for the rest of this week, but a system might make its way into the area Tuesday, Dec. 7.

“It’s still too early to see what chances are for snowfall, but it does look like some precip over on the eastern side of the Rockies,” Wilkinson said. “… For Summit, you could get a little bit of something, especially on Tuesday evening.”

As for temperatures, the unseasonably warm weather continues with temperatures forecast in the upper 50s later this week, Wilkinson said. Thursday, Dec. 2, is expected to be the warmest day with a forecast high of 59 degrees. If the forecast comes true, it would best the record for the date of 57 degrees set in 1998.

“Going into the weekend, it’s still trending above normal, but not as warm as Thursday, which is the hottest day this week,” Wilkinson said. “Finally, when that system comes in on Tuesday, temps will cool down into the mid-40s.”

The long-term outlook is more promising. Wilkinson said the six- to 10-day forecast, which includes Dec. 6-10, shows above-normal temperatures, but precipitation is forecast to be near or above normal, as well.

Open Snow Meteorologist Sam Collentine shared an optimistic outlook in his Breckenridge forecast, predicting active weather continuing after Tuesday into the second half of December. He wrote that Tuesday should bring a “healthy dose of snowfall” and noted that there’s another good chance for snow Dec. 11.

Throughout the month of November, drought conditions remained unchanged. The U.S. Drought Monitor classifies Summit County as being in a moderate to severe drought, with the driest part of the county to the north. Drought conditions have not changed since Oct. 5, when about half of the county was considered abnormally dry, the lowest level of drought classification, and the rest of the county was in a moderate to severe drought.

The U.S. Drought Monitor’s latest map shows Summit County in a moderate to severe drought.
U.S. Drought Monitor/Courtesy map
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