Snowpack news: Snow dance may be in order as mid-season approaches — Steamboat Today

Click on a thumbnail for a gallery of snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service

From Steamboat Today (Matt Stensland):

Steamboat Ski Area needs to get 6.5 inches of snow in the next 11 days if it wants to just tie the single worst January in the resort’s history of record keeping going back to 1979.

So far in January, 10.5 inches of snow have fallen at mid-mountain. On average, January yields 74.78 inches of snow and is typically the snowiest month of the season.

The worst January in the resort’s history was in 1981 when 17 inches was measured at mid-mountain. The second-worst January was in 1986 when 21.5 inches of snow fell.

The best January on record was in 1996 when 216.5 inches piled up. That is an average of nearly 7 inches per day.

The ski area is coming off a December when 56.25 inches of snow fell. On average, the ski area gets 68.74 inches of snow in December.

This January has also been a warm one with an average high temperature of 32.3 degrees, according to the National Weather Service. The average high temperature for January in Steamboat is 27.3 degrees…
Joel Gratz, with, does not have great news when looking ahead to the last week and a half of January.

“I still don’t see a definitive timing of a pattern change toward consistent cold and snowy weather, but chances do increase late in January into early February for somewhat more consistent moisture,” Gratz wrote.

From the Valley Courier (Ruth Heide):

It’s still early.

That is the optimistic attitude water leaders are taking towards the 2015 snowpack.

Tuesday’s snowpack sat at 61 percent of median for the San Juan Mountains on the western side of the Rio Grande Basin and 74 percent for the Sangre de Cristo Mountains on the eastern side, and the Natural Resource & Conservation Service’s (NRCS) first stream flow forecast for the year predicted a 78-percentof-average flow on the Rio Grande at Del Norte during the irrigation season.

“We are hoping we can get some snow storms over these next months and get those numbers up quite a bit,” Colorado Division of Water Resources Division 3 Division Engineer Craig Cotten said during the Rio Grande Water Conservation District (RGWCD) meeting yesterday in Alamosa.

“The best news I can give you the National Weather Service is still claiming we are going to have a good, above average precipitation year,” he added. “We are hoping they are going to get it right.”

The weather service’s precipitation outlook for February , March and April places the Valley right in the bull’s eye for above average precipitation, Cotten said. Longer-term forecasts from the weather service, going into the summer months, also predict above average precipitation, he added. That is not what the current snowpack reflects, however. Basin wide as of Tuesday the snowpack was 64 percent of normal and would require the snowpack from here through the end of the snow season to be 150 percent of normal just to get it up to average, Cotten explained.

“We do have some good months ahead really, and we can get that done if everything works right,” he said.

He said the current snowpack is about where it was in 2013, less than in 2012 and 2014 and significantly less than average. On the positive side, Cotten pointed out that some of the SNOTEL measurement sites in the basin are above average , such as the snow measurement sites at Cochetopa Pass (132 percent of median) Slumgullion (104 percent of median) and Medano Pass (110 percent of median), as of January 20.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve Superintendent Lisa Carrico was encouraged about the above-normal snowpack on Medano Pass, because snow on the pass this winter will result in water running in the creek at the dunes this summer. She said the SNOTEL measurement at Medano Pass, reflecting 110 percent above median on Tuesday, had been 143 percent earlier in January.

Carrico said the precipitation at the dunes in 2014 was above average for the first time since 2008, and although it was only slightly above, “we’ll take it.” She said average precipitation is about 11.1 inches, and in 2014 the dunes registered 11.23 inches. She added for the first time in four years the flow at Medano Creek was better than average in 2014 and double the flow of any of the previous three years. The same was true on Sand Creek, she added.

RGWCD General Manager Steve Vandiver said San Luis Lake remained dry last year but hopefully the water in the wetlands between the dunes and the lake will reach the lake this year. In addition to providing an update on the snowpack and forecast, Cotten reported that Colorado more than met its Rio Grande Compact obligations to downstream states in 2014. The final accounting will not be approved until the annual compact meeting, which will be held in Texas in March.

As it stands, though, it appears Colorado will have an overall credit, having over-delivered its obligations on the Rio Grande, under-delivered on the Conejos River system and overall coming out ahead. Cotten explained that the state should end up with about 7,500 acre feet credit on the Rio Grande Compact. The Rio Grande wound up with a credit of about 9,000 acre feet after adjustments, and the Conejos River system was about 1,500 acre feet short.

Cotten said the Conejos River system annual index flow for 2014 was 225,100 acre feet, or about 70 percent of the long-term average, while the Rio Grande was pretty close to average, with an annual index flow of 638,700 acre feet. The long-term average runs 640,000-650 ,000 acre feet.

To make up some of its debt, the Conejos system shut off its irrigation season early in 2014, ending the season on October 21 rather than the traditional date of November 1, Cotten explained. In addition , the system released water that had been stored out of Platoro Reservoir to reduce its water debt.

Cotten said some compact water was stored this past year for both the Rio Grande and Conejos River systems, which is a rather new strategy , but he is hoping it can be done on a regular basis to help meet compact obligations without curtailing water users so heavily during the irrigation season.

RGWCD Board Member Lawrence Gallegos, who represents Conejos County, said the forecasts last year were off, so when it was discovered more water would be needed to meet the compact than had originally been predicted, irrigators had to be significantly curtailed and even shut off early. He encouraged using stored water in reservoirs to help pay compact debts to prevent that kind of drastic curtailment in the future.

Cotten said the division is working on better forecasting methods as well as greater utilization of reservoirs for compact storage. The division has to make sure compact storage/release from reservoirs can be accomplished without injuring other water users at the same time, he said.

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