Drought/snowpack news: ‘The positive side of it is that in most of our heavier winters, we start out dry’ — Billy Barr #CODrought



From The Crested Butte News (Alissa Johnson):

Out at Gothic, Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory business manager [Billy Barr] just recorded the driest fall in 39 years. That means that out of 39 years of data, September through November ranked #39 out of 39 for snowpack and snowfall. “The positive side of it is that in most of our heavier winters, we start out dry because the weather patterns miss us the first couple months of winter and then we get it starting to come through here, and in January, February and March we get hammered,” [Barr] said…

It’s not a sure thing—last year the weather pattern never changed, and as barr pointed out, no winter has ever started like this one—but it’s a pattern locals are banking on. The streets are filled with rumors that we never get two dry winters in a row, and the last big winter during 2007-2008 was dry until December 7. Then, the skies opened up…

For skiers hoping to give Mother Nature a boost, [local historian Duane Vandenbusche] went back to the history books for some tried and true methods. “In the early days of the Crested Butte ski area and the early days of Vail they brought a group of Ute Indians in from the Four Corners to do a snow dance,” he said.

In 1963 in Vail, for example, Many Cloud of the Cloud Clan led dancers to call upon the spirits of the land. And in spite of the smirks of skeptics, the history books report that the “Next day, says a believer, it snowed like hell.”[…]

We’ve also read that sleeping with a silver spoon under your pillow can help, and here at The News, we like Murphy’s Law. If you put your bike back into storage in October, haul it out for one more ride. If you’ve been riding it every day, put it away for goodness sake.

As KBUT program director Chad Reich says, “I think that when people don’t put away their mountain bikes, it angers the snow gods.”

From the Summit Daily News (Paige Blankenbuehler):

A river that started the day with a modest flow dwindled by the afternoon to a thin sheet of ice covering the dry ground below. Dead fish lay frozen on the riverbed nearby.

John Pallaoro, a Breckenridge resident who owns a business on the Blue River, observed water levels drop significantly Tuesday.

“As I watched the river today, it went from flowing to absolutely nothing and I noticed the smell of dead fish,” Pallaoro said Tuesday. “I’ve observed several dead fish throughout the day.”

Pallaoro said the levels of the river this year compared to previous years is “black and white.”

“Something is up, something non-natural is going on,” he said. “I look up at the mountain and see them blowing all of this snow for the halfpipe and Dew Tour and I don’t know if that’s the answer or not, but it’s hard not to make a connection.”

Breckenridge Ski Resort officials say the low levels are not connected with ongoing snowmaking efforts.

“We are constantly monitoring streamflows at the Maggie Pond dam and the Highway 9 bridge gauge to make sure we are not impacting minimum streamflows in the Blue River,” said Kristen Petitt-Stewart, spokeswoman for the resort. “We have been well within our flow parameters and 100 percent compliant so far this snowmaking season and minimum streamflows are being met.”

As part of this monitoring and management of the water rights, the ski resort has legal right to call for water to be released into the Blue River from the Goose Pasture Tarn above the snowmaking intake…

The town of Breckenridge and Breckenridge Ski Resort, the two entities that divert water from the tarn and Maggie Pond that flow into the Blue River as it extends through town, are within their legal right to use the water, said Troy Wineland, water commissioner for District 36 of the Blue River Basin…

The low level of the Blue River, particularly at a section directly behind Main Street businesses near French Street that nearly dried up Tuesday, can be blamed on the dry conditions and low snowpack levels…

The minimum bypass flows at the diversion point for Breckenridge Ski Resort’s snowmaking is 2 cubic feet per second. Downstream on the Blue River near Tiger Road, the minimum streamflow requirement is 10 CFS.

“The minimum bypass flows are being met, but the streamflows are so deficient the river is not flowing above the surface of the stream bed — I need to stress that the water is there, you just can’t see it because it’s sub-surface in some sections,” Wineland said.

From The Aspen Times:

The Aspen Water Department recorded just 6 inches of snowfall last month, according to its monthly report, released Wednesday. The average for November is nearly 22 inches. Virtually all of last month’s snow fell during one weekend, Nov. 10 and 11, followed by a half-inch Nov. 12. Total precipitation, measured as water, was well below average and nearly matched the record low for the month. The water plant, at 8,161 feet in elevation, measured 0.44 inches of moisture in November, compared with an average of 2.02 inches, the report noted. The record low for precipitation in November — 0.42 inches — occurred in 1999. That year, the water department recorded 7.1 inches of snowfall for the month.

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

October’s rain and snow might have been enough to bring 2012 out from the bottom of Greeley’s precipitation records, but November’s limited moisture put it right back down there.

Unseasonably warm temperatures last month also leaves Greeley still enduring its hottest year on record.

The 0.3 inches of precipitation Greeley received last month was 30 percent less than average for November, according to figures provided by the Colorado Climate Center in Fort Collins. And, at the end of last month, Greeley’s precipitation total for 2012 stood at 7.99 inches — well short of the 14.13 inches the city normally receives by the end of November.

Back in October, there had been a glimmer of hope for Greeley, as the city received above­normal precipitation — enough to make 2012 the second­driest year on record up to that point, instead of the driest, as it had been for most of the year.

Then the dry spell returned in November.

But as dry as it has been locally, the Greeley area is actually faring better than the rest of the state.

According to the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which was released last week, Greeley, western Weld County and some surrounding areas are experiencing “moderate” drought, while the rest of the state is enduring “severe,” “extreme” or “exceptional” drought.

Conditions are the worst in southeast Colorado.

The dry conditions across Colorado have created headaches for farmers and ranchers.
According to last week’s Colorado Crop Progress report from the USDA, 85 percent of the topsoil in the state was “short” or “very short” on moisture, while 93 percent of the state’s subsoil was short or very short on moisture.

Moisture in both is critical for the growth of crops, and farmers say conditions must improve before spring planting rolls around.

Many Weld County winter wheat farmers, who planted in September and October, say that crop is in good condition locally thanks to the rains that fell on the area around planting time.

But that hasn’t been the case for wheat growers elsewhere in Colorado. According to the Colorado Crop Progress report, 34 percent of the state’s crop is in poor or very poor condition.

Additionally, about 85 percent of pastures and rangelands in the state are in poor or very poor condition.

Particularly of concern to many right now is how dry it is in the mountains.

Greeley, like many other cities in Colorado, is one that depends heavily on snowmelt from the mountains to meet its water needs. Weld County’s farmers and ranchers, too, depend on winter and spring snows to provide runoff that fills irrigations ditches during the growing season.

But, according to numbers provided by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, snowpack in the South Platte River basin on Wednesday was at 39 percent of its historic average for Dec. 5.

That’s a decrease from where it was the previous week. On Nov. 29, snowpack in the South Platte basin was at 53 percent of average for that date.

Of the eight major river basins in Colorado, only the Arkansas River basin, with its levels at 28 percent of average, and the Rio Grande basin, at 38 percent, had lower snowpack marks on Wednesday.

Like the South Platte basin snowpack, the Colorado River basin — where the Front Range also gets some of its water supplies — stood at 39 percent of average on Wednesday.

The average high temperature last month in Greeley was 54.8 degrees, with the average temperature overall for the month at 41.8 degrees — the latter of which placed last month as the eighth­warmest November on record for Greeley.

Through the end of November, the average temperature in the city was 57.4 degrees for the year, 2.8 degrees above normal, and standing as the highest mark on record for Greeley.

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