Snowpack news: Statewide snowpack approximately 81% of average, below average streamflow forecasted

snowpackcolorado03092012

From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):

Following a winter last year that refused to yield its grip on much of the state until the calendar said it was officially summer, the winter of 2011-12 never really got rolling in the Rocky Mountains until mid-February. And the snowpack that local rivers and reservoirs depend upon for water currently reflects that. February’s wintery weather created optimism that the state might rebound from its sluggish start. But statistics on the board offer a grim outlook for salvaging even an average water year on the majority of the Western Slope, the wet side of Colorado.

The National Water and Climate Center currently places year-to-date precipitation below average in seven of Colorado’s eight major river basins, establishing a comparably subpar snowpack. And even as the Upper Rio Grande basin registers 101 percent of precipitation average, the snow water equivalent there remains down 15 percent at just 85 percent of average.

Elsewhere in the state, the numbers are generally worse. With 92 percent of its average precipitation so far, the South Platte River basin is clinging to 85 percent of its snow water equivalent, and the Arkansas River basin is pulling 84 percent of the water from 87 percent of its average snowfall. Salvaging a solid runoff and healthy fishing flows is not out of reach in those areas, given a shift in weather patterns through April, generally the second- snowiest month in the mountains.

But the Upper Colorado River basin — fed at its headwaters by the mountains of Grand County and downstream by the Blue and Eagle rivers of Summit and Eagle counties — will face increased urgency to mount a comeback from a snowpack of only 77 percent. A similar scenario holds true for the Yampa and White river basins to the north, while the Gunnison River basin to the west is faring slightly better at 80 percent snowpack and 78 percent snow water equivalent, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Katie Klingsporn):

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, February’s series of storms helped boost the state’s overall snowpack by 9 percent. As of this week, the snowpack for the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan Basin was up to 82 percent of average, which put it 1 percent ahead of the statewide average. It’s still slightly behind the basin’s average for this time of year, but considering that it sat at just 61 percent of average on Jan. 15, it’s come a long way. The NRSC’s Snotel censor measured the snow depth at Lizard Head Pass on Friday at 47 inches.

According to weather data compiled by local resident Thom Carnevale, the town of Telluride received 37.8 inches of snow in February, up significantly from the monthly average of 26.8 inches. That translated into 2.21 inches of precipitation, up from the average of 1.72 inches. (The record snowfall for the month, according to Carnevale’s records, is an astonishing 97.9 inches, which fell in 1936)

January, meanwhile, saw 27.8 inches, according to Carnevale’s reports, up slightly from the average of 26.9 inches. Of the total inches, Carnevale said, 20 fell between Jan. 21 and 27…

Technically, the La Niña pattern hasn’t gone anywhere, and Colton said the region might be feeling more of its downsides as March unfolds. “We’re expecting conditions to warm up and dry out for the next 30 days,” [Jeff Colton, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction station] said this week…

As of March 1, reservoir storage statewide was 107 percent of average, and the reservoir storage in the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan Basin was 104 percent of average.

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

The combined Yampa and White river basins stood at 80 percent of average moisture stored in the snow on Monday, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “Things have improved for Colorado since Feb. 1, that’s for sure,” NRCS assistant snow survey supervisor Mage Skordahl said. “But overall the chances are pretty unlikely we’ll get back to average by April. We don’t get a lot of moisture in April, but if we get a wet spring there can still be a large accumulation then as well.” Skordahl was putting the finishing touches on a statewide water forecast Monday and said Colorado had picked up 9 percentage points in February to reach 81 percent of average snowpack. She said in a typical year, Colorado gets 20 percent of its seasonal snow moisture in March.

Close to Steamboat Springs, at 9,400 feet, the Rabbit Ears Snotel site showed 15.2 inches of water in the snowpack compared to the typical 22.3 inches for the date. That translates to 68 percent of average. But there’s more ground to be made up…

The Tower Snotel site at the 10,500-foot summit of Buffalo Pass on the Continental Divide northeast of Steamboat typically peaks on May 6 with 52.4 inches of water, according to the NRCS. On Monday, the water content in the snow there stood at 28.7 inches. That’s 74 percent of average for the date, but 55 percent of the average peak.

The area around Crosho Lake on the edge of the Flat Tops Wilderness Area between Phippsburg and Yampa has a good shot at reaching average snowpack — water content there on Monday was 9.8 inches, or 92 percent of the average for the date of 10.7 inches. The Crosho Snotel site needs to get to 12 inches to hit the April 5 average peak snowpack.

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Tonya Bina):

The overall snowpack for Middle Park is at 81 percent, with 100 percent being “average.” “We’re doing a little bit better. Hopefully March will still be snowy,” said Mark Volt of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Kremmling Field Office. At the beginning of February, snowpack was at 75 percent of the 30-year average snowpack.

Field Office snow surveyors Volt, Vance Fulton, and Joe Messina took the March 1 snow survey measurements during the last days of February.

Snowpack in the mountains above Middle Park now ranges from 55 percent to 111 percent of the 30-year average. Last year at this time, the area was at 128 percent of average. Two areas of Middle Park measured better than other areas. Areas around Gore Pass met the 30-year average in moisture content of snowpack at 104 percent of average, with 43 inches of snow depth, and a Granby snow course near the old Granby Landfill and C Lazy U Ranch measured at 106 percent of average with 40 inches. Snow density is averaging 22 percent, which means that for one foot of snow there is about 2.6 inches of water. “This is pretty low snow density for this time of year,” said Volt. “Snow density for March 1st usually runs in the high 20s.”

From the Associated Press via the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported Tuesday that statewide snowpack increased to 81 percent of average, up 9 percentage points from the 72 percent of average recorded on Feb. 1. Forecasters say despite these gains, this year’s snowpack continues to lag well behind last year’s totals. As of March 1, all major basins in Colorado are expected to have below average runoff conditions this spring and summer.

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