Snowpack/runoff news: The melt-out continues in the Arkansas Basin

From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

The month of March was particularly concerning to the hydrologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric’s Administration’s Colorado River Basin Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“On March 2, we were very optimistic a storm would come through, but it just didn’t pan out,” Paul Miller, a senior hydrologist with the Forecast Center, said during an April 7 webinar attended remotely by more than 30 interested people from across the Colorado Basin. “March was very, very dry except for portions of the eastern Green (River Basin) and the tip of the Colorado headwaters. Especially in the Great Basin, you can see that Utah is well below average.”

But the story of this year’s water supply in the Intermountain West really lies in the uncommonly mild March temperatures that have caused what snowpack there is to melt at a time when snowpack should have been growing, Miller said.

“Our temperatures have been record-breaking, the warmest on record in Utah and Salt Lake City,” he said. “The whole region has been well, well, well above average the entire winter season. Because of the early melt, we’re seeing high (streamflow) values well before runoff season. It’s just indicative of snow melting too early.”[…]

In Steamboat Springs, 13 miles and 3,500 feet in elevation from one of the most productive snowpack sites along the Continental Divide, there were 18 days in March when afternoon temperatures exceeded 50 degrees and nine of those were warmer than 60 degrees. Thanks to the wet summer of 2014, reservoirs here are sure to fill, but river flows will be below average.

The Salt Lake Tribune reported April 7 that the snowpack in the majority of the Utah’s watersheds was under 50 percent, and farmers were confronted with decisions about whether to plant water intensive grain, or switch to crops that need less water. That same week, the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff published a story about a new subdivision where shallow wells had been tapped out, and residents were removing grass lawns in favor of artificial lawns.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

…in southern Colorado, the weekend storm was not enough to counteract snowmelt that has already begun in the Arkansas River Basin, where the snowpack is well below normal and water managers face constant drought.

“It (the Arkansas Basin) picked up about 2 feet of snow from this event on average,” said Kathleen Torgerson, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Pueblo. “So it was a good amount of precipitation. It just didn’t surpass the melting that occurred before that.”

The wintry weather may stall the arrival of a true spring, but the moisture is welcome in Colorado, where most river basins are facing below normal snowpack levels. While the mountains along the northern Front Range saw the most snow, south-central Colorado and the Western Slope continue to lose ground in the battle for snowpack as the spring runoff season overtakes the snow season.

By April, most of Colorado’s basin have passed their peak snowfall periods, and snow has begun to melt, according to an April drought update from the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The South Platte River Basin, which encompasses most of the Colorado’s northern Front Range, benefited the most from the storm – as of Sunday, snow measurements put the basin at 95 percent of normal, up from 87 in early April. But the Arkansas River Basin, home to Colorado Springs and the southeastern Front Range, went down from 80 percent of normal in early April to 77 percent as of Sunday. The Western Slope basins saw the steepest decline, dropping from more than 50 percent to numbers in the 30s.

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