Snowpack news: “February’s moisture could make up for a dry, warm January” — Chris Woodka

Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal February 26, 2015
Westwide SNOTEL snow water equivalent as a percent of normal February 26, 2015

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

Snow along the Front Range has been intense this week: closing schools, making driving treacherous at times and filing up in drifts as people dig out.

But statewide, the average accumulation of snow so far remains below average at 82 percent of median.

Snowpack remains heaviest over the central mountains, which bodes well for this spring’s water supply. But the southern mountains and the far western part of Colorado remain below average.

As of Thursday morning, the Pueblo area had received about 15 inches of snow containing close to an inch of moisture for the month of February, which is above average.

That’s a lot for recent years, but not yet close to the record 20.1 inches of snow recorded at Pueblo in 1894. Pueblo received more than 17 inches in 1911 and 1939 as well.

Up to a foot of snow was left in the Upper Arkansas River basin by the storm that started Saturday night, while the storm that started Wednesday deposited about half that much.

More than 2 feet of snow has blanketed some mountain areas of the state, leaving snow stations at elevations above 11,000 feet anywhere from 123-144 percent of median.

The Arkansas River basin as a whole was listed at about 95 percent of median as of midnight Thursday, but snow continued to fall in the morning hours over much of the area.

The Upper Colorado River basin, which Pueblo and the Arkansas Valley rely on for supplemental water, was at 91 percent of normal early Thursday, with some headwater areas well above normal.

While the South Platte basin is in good shape at 106 percent, most of the state’s other basins still are struggling to reach average snowpack levels. The Rio Grande and Gunnison River basins are only at three-quarters average and the southwest corner of the state is lagging behind other areas.

March and April are typically the snowiest months, but February’s moisture could make up for a dry, warm January, which negated the benefits of early snows.

From The Dolores Star (Jim Mimiaga):

Southwest Colorado is expected to see steady precipitation through Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.

Forecast models show the area receiving between 13 and 25 inches of new snow between Friday and the middle of next week, reports NWS meteorologist Joe Ramey.

“It looks persistent for quite a while with back-to-back storms,” he said.

The NWS has issued a winter storm watch for southwest Colorado beginning Friday at 6 a.m. and lasting until Monday at 8 p.m.

On Friday, the first storm hits in Cortez, bringing showers turning to snow overnight. Lower elevations like Cortez and Durango are right on the snow-rain line over the weekend, Ramey said. Weekend daytime highs are expected to be at or above freezing.

A second colder storm rolls in on Monday and is expected to generate steady snow for Cortez and the San Juan mountains.

“The colder air should make it all snow all the time,” Ramey said.

Last weekend’s storm dropped 24 inches of snow in the Dolores region, and 12 inches in Cortez, according to local weather watchers. Telluride reported 29 inches from the last storm.

Local meteorologist Jim Andrus said the upcoming storm system is similar to one in 1967 that dropped 18 inches of snow in Cortez and seven feet of snow in Flagstaff, Az.

“A deep, low-pressure trough over the Southwest is setting up a strong storm flow over the Four Corners,” Andrus said. “It is not a good travel weekend. The National Weather Service predicts Wolf Creek could receive up to 70 inches of new snow.”

After so many dry weeks, what changed?

Ramey explained that a high-pressure ridge in the atmosphere above California had been persistently blocking storms from reaching southwest Colorado. Last week, the ridge moved westward over the Pacific, allowing storms to go around and dive into Colorado.

The added moisture is good news for the Dolores Basin snowpack, which feeds McPhee Reservoir during Spring runoff. Before last weekend’s storm, the basin was one of the driest in the state.

Vernon Lamb, a technician for the Dolores Water Conservancy District that manages McPhee, reported that on Feb. 19, the Dolores Basin’s snow-water equivalent was at 61 percent of the median for that day.

By Monday, Feb. 23, the snow-water equivalent had jumped to 67.2 percent…

Despite the bump in snowfall, southwest Colorado’s overall snowpack is still the lowest in the state. The combined snowpack for the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan watersheds is at 68 percent of normal, as of Feb. 25. The state average is 82 percent of normal for that day.

From The Denver Post (Daniel Boniface):

Snow overnight Thursday in Denver led to a new snowfall record for the month of February with 22.2 inches recorded at Denver International Airport in 2015, breaking a 103-year-old mark.

The National Weather Service in Boulder announced overnight the new mark surpassed the previous record of 22.1 inches set back in February of 1912.

The weather service recorded 3.3 inches at DIA on Thursday to break the record.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Brian Bledsoe):

The past week has been AMAZING in terms of snowfall in Colorado!

Not only did communities along the Front Range receive some excellent snow totals, the mountains have been getting hit hard as well.

Since Friday, as much as 4 feet of snow has fallen in the mountains. The most encouraging news is the San Juan Range has been a big winner. Up until the past five days, the southwest part of the state hadn’t received much snow this winter, but the current weather pattern will continue to drop hefty amounts on ski areas such as Wolf Creek, Purgatory, Crested Butte and Monarch Mountain.

So while many folks have been skiing at the northern and central mountain resorts, now is a great time to break away and head south. Some of the best powder of the season exists at the aforementioned resorts.

The high country will continue to benefit from this wintry pattern, but less snow will fall at lower elevations. However, simply because it is less snow doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Colorado Springs is having one of its snowier winters in years, and that pattern looks to continue.

Remember, don’t curse the snow. The more that falls on the Pikes Peak region, the better the chances of avoiding water problems and fire danger problems in the near future.

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