From the Salida Citizen (Christopher Kolomitz):
We all know that during the past two weeks a pineapple express of moisture has been slamming into the Rockies and it has done magical things to the snowpack, especially compared to the past two years. But as our memories fade, one winter blends into the next and it’s hard to recall specifics. Luckily, a series of weather stations in the Colorado mountains record climate data.
By looking at that data which goes back to 1979, we can determine what level of “epicness” the past two weeks puts us on. And, it appears we are on track with the legendary winters of the early 1980s, the snowy mid-90s and a much needed wet year of 2008. We seem to be a little ahead of the big year of 2011…
Here in the Arkansas Basin we sit at 115 percent of average snowpack. Nine different SNOWTEL stations are in the basin and seven are used to figure that percentage. Of the nine, Brumley, Fremont Pass, St. Elmo and Porphyry Creek are especially important for us in the Upper Arkansas Valley because the other six (Apishapa, Glen Cove, Hayden Pass, South Colony and Whiskey Creek) are located in drainages below and southeast of Salida. Because the St. Elmo and Hayden Pass sites were installed in 2007, they are not used when developing historical averages.
On Feb. 12, I looked at the SWE for Fremont Pass and Porphyry Creek, which is at Monarch Pass, just west of the summit in Gunnison County. Yes, it’s technically on the Western Slope but it is being used to calculate Arkansas Basin figures because of its strategic location. And, because most of us want to compare the skiing, I dialed a little more into the numbers at this site.
Monarch has been blasted since the early part of the month and the ski area is reporting 11 feet in the past two weeks. As of Feb. 12 the SWE at Brumley was at 15 inches, so I compared that with the historical SNOTEL data.
In the last 14 years only once (2008) has it been that depth at this point in the season. During the past 35 years 15 inches of SWE this early has been reached only four times – 1984, 1996, 1997 and 2008.
In 10 winters (1980, 82, 84, 86, 93, 96, 97, 2005 and 08) the 15 inch SWE mark was achieved by the end of February. On the flip side, another 10 winters (1981, 89, 90, 91, 99, 2000, 04, 07, 12 and 13) failed to reach the 15 inches of SWE at all.
In 2011 when it seemed as if it would never stop snowing in the spring, Porphyry reached 15 inches of SWE on March 1. It hit 18.2 inches in April that year and then maxed out at 19.7 in May.
Since 1979 the highest SWE for Porphyry was in May of 1984 when it reached 27.4 inches. The 15 inches of SWE was eclipsed in early January that year.
In the winter of 1995 the site reached SWE levels equal with this year on March 10. That year the maximum SWE was 24 inches. A year after, in 1996, 15 inches of SWE was hit Feb. 2.
Further north on Fremont Pass, at the headwaters of the Arkansas, the SNOWTEL site Feb. 12 was measuring 13.3 inches of SWE and a depth of snow of 64 inches. The winters of 1996, 2006 and 2011 all had SWE greater and sooner. In 1996, the SWE reached today’s levels on Jan. 25 and by May it was above 27 inches.
Looking at the most recent winters of 2011-2013, it’s clear that at Fremont Pass, things are in much better shape than the past few years. Last year the SWE didn’t reach current levels until April 5, although it maxed out later in May at 19.1 inches and helped save runoff.
Drought in 2012 was evident when the SWE made it only to 12.4 inches for the entire year. But, the snowy year of 2011 was better than all when the SWE passed today’s levels on Jan. 31 and reached 26.7 inches May 5.