Snowpack/precipitation news: Dry east and west of the Great Divide, Arkansas River basin is at 89 percent of average


From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

“It looks really sad. There’s not much of a snowpack at all up here,” said Rick Sexton, caretaker of Clear Creek Reservoir for the Pueblo Board of Water Works. “There’s very little snow in Leadville. It’s all melted off the south faces of the mountains and up to the tree line on the north faces. It’s 50 degrees here today, and windy as well.

“It’s shaping up to be a bad winter.”

In the Colorado River basin, which the Arkansas River depends on for supplemental water imports, it’s even drier. Snowpack in the Arkansas River basin is 89 percent of normal, while it’s only 63 percent in the Upper Colorado. The Rio Grande basin is in the best shape, with 93 percent of average…

The good news is that most of the snow typically doesn’t fall until March and April, and early readings can give a misleading impression of how much snow eventually will pile up.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Pueblo ended the year with 9.23 inches of precipitation, about 75 percent of average. The year 2011 ranked as the fifth driest year on record in the past 40 years. Other than 2002, when only 3.94 inches of moisture was recorded, it was the driest in a decade. Drought concerns prevailed throughout most of the year in Southern Colorado, with wildfires in several Eastern Plains counties last spring, dryland crop damage and cattle sell-offs making headlines…

National Weather Service forecasts call for chances of average precipitation over the next few months, with a weak La Nina (Pacific Ocean cooling) system. It’s impossible to predict when or where the snow or rain will land, however. The U.S. Drought Monitor lists much of Southern Colorado in severe to extreme drought.

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

As of Dec. 30, the Natural Resources Conservation Service reported that snowpack in the South Platte River Basin was 15 percent behind the 30-year average for this time of year, while the Colorado River Basin was 37 percent behind normal — its second-lowest level recorded on Jan. 1 since records started being kept in the 1980s. The snowpack for the entire state is 28 percent behind the norm.

However, most of the snowfall in the mountains comes in March and April and “some really good snowstorms during those months could get numbers back up to normal before the snow season is over,” said David Nettles, an engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources office in Greeley.

Also, the amount of water stored in northern Colorado reservoirs and other storage facilities is at healthy levels because of last year’s above-average snowpack. Dana Strongin, communications specialist with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District, said water levels in the region’s 12 reservoirs that are part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project are nearly 30 percent above normal.

“There’s nothing terribly alarming about the snowpack numbers we’re seeing right now,” Nettles said. “If this continues, that could be a different story. But for now, we’re not panicking.” Jim Hall, water resources manager for the city of Greeley, echoed Nettles’ comments. He said the current low levels of snowpack aren’t particularly alarming, not for a city that has plentiful access to water storage facilities.

Since reservoir levels are well above average, those with senior rights on the river and access to water storage facilities — particularly municipalities — will be in good shape for quite a while, even if low snowpack levels persist.

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