From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
Colorado’s snowpack was at 117 percent of average as of Tuesday, according to federal Natural Resources Conservation Service data. If coming months deliver even average snowfall, it will mean plentiful runoff reaching reservoirs this spring and abundant water this summer for Currier and others to use to irrigate fields.
If anything, the rest of the snow season should be above-average. Cory Gates, a meteorologist with aspenweather.net in Aspen and formerly a National Weather Service forecaster, said the El Niño weather pattern that has brought so much moisture so far this fall and winter probably will result in a normal February, followed almost certainly by a wet March and April.
“The rest of the winter is still going to be an El Niño-type winter. Even though it’s weakened out there, there’s plenty of characteristics of it still,” he said.
El Niño winters stem from warmer ocean temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. This year’s El Niño is one of the strongest on record. From early on, it had forecasters predicting a wet start to the season’s snowfall, possibly a slowdown in snowfall in mid-winter, and then a wet March and April if the El Niño conditions held on that long.
Fortunately, even January remained above normal for local snowfall, Gates said.
The bountiful snowfall carried into the start of February this week, as everyone knows, from skiers enjoying powder days to students who reveled in rare school snow-day closures.
Gates said Aspen ski resorts got about 40 inches of snow in the last three days.
“The skiing is epic. I talk to a lot of people every day. It’s up to their waists and they’ve got on big powder skis and they’re having fun,” he said.
Snowpack Tuesday in the Upper Colorado River Basin was at 116 percent, and the Gunnison Basin was at 122 percent. Snowpack ranged from 102 percent in the Laramie/North Platte basins to 130 percent in the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins. El Niño winters are usually particularly generous in terms of snowfall in southwest Colorado, and less so in northwestern Colorado.
According to a weekly update from the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University, which works with the National Integrated Drought Information System, “Western Colorado saw mostly above-average precipitation over the past month, generally more than 200 percent of normal. The San Luis Valley was a dry area though, with parts of Alamosa and Conejos counties down to 20 percent of normal.”
Statewide snowpack is actually down a bit from 121 percent as of Dec. 30. Levels in the Upper Colorado and Gunnison basins increased slightly during the last month.
Currier also is involved with Colorado water policy as a member of the state Interbasin Compact Committee. He said the state’s water picture looked bleak as recently as last April, before being boosted by strong spring snow and then a lot of rain in the summer.
“And then the start of the snowpack this year has been really good news,” he said.
An automated snowpack measurement at Park Reservoir on the Grand Mesa already shows 19 inches of snow water equivalent. That’s promising for irrigators, because usually if it peaks at around 23 to 25 inches for the winter, reservoirs on the mesa will fill, Currier said.
He’s less certain what might happen to water levels this year in Lake Powell, which states in the Upper Colorado River Basin rely on to meet water delivery obligations to downstream states. Currier said it all depends on what happens in March and April, which are crucial months for snowpack, and he noted that one Upper Basin state, Wyoming, has below-average snow.
“We’ve still got some catching up to do in the northern part of the Colorado River Basin to have as much as we’d like to have,” he said.
Gates’ confidence that a snowy March and April are coming leads him to believe that Lake Powell’s water level will go up “a lot” — probably between 40 and 47 feet, he said.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
This week’s snow added to an already abundant snowpack in Colorado.
As of Wednesday, all areas of the state were above the median snowpack for the date, with most areas about 10,000 feet already above 60 percent of the average peak snowpack for the year, with some places above 75 percent or more. The peak usually is reached in April.
“All of our snow courses were at 100 percent of average at the end of the month,” said Rick Sexton, caretaker for Clear Creek Reservoir for the Pueblo Board of Water Works. “That was before the most recent snow.”
Pueblo Water keeps track of snow in the mountains as an indicator of how much water transmountain diversions likely will bring in through ditches and tunnels for the coming year.
Statewide, the snow water equivalent for the state was 117 percent of median, with both the Arkansas River and Rio Grande basins at 121 percent. The measurement is made by estimating how much moisture is in the snowpack, based on depth and temperature. In the Arkansas River watershed, the snow water equivalent ranges from 3-12 inches at Natural Resources Conservation Service stations.
Southern Colorado recorded more than a foot of snow in some places, including northern El Paso County and Colorado City. There were 3-14 inches in the Upper Arkansas Valley and 2-5 inches east of Pueblo. About 3-5 inches fell in Pueblo and Pueblo West. More snow or drizzle Wolf Creek Pass, as usual, is reporting the greatest snow depth in the state, with 86 inches at the NRCS station and the ski area reporting a midcourse depth of 102 inches.
Pueblo’s official precipitation for the year has reached 0.83 inches, which is more than twice the average.
The Fryingpan Arkansas Project is on track to bring in 67,800 acrefeet, well above normal, according to the Feb. 1 forecast by the Bureau of Reclamation. That usually changes as weather conditions fluctuate.
“It’s still early,” said Roy Vaughan, Fry-Ark manager for the Bureau of Reclamation. “We rely on the May 1 forecast.”
With reservoir levels above average, there could be issues with storing water in Lake Pueblo and other places this spring once the snow starts melting. Fry-Ark project water has first priority.
Climate models are predicting a strong El Nino (warming of the Pacific Ocean) will continue, meaning above average precipitation in Southern Colorado through this spring.
From TheDenverChannel.com (Marc Stewart):
“The average snow pack is about 120% of normal in the mountains right now, so we’re in really good shape, especially in early February,” said Denver7 Chief Meteorologist Mike Nelson.
According to Denver Water: Collection in the Upper South Platte watershed is 126% of normal and in the Upper Colorado River watershed it is 118% of normal…
The snow helps to keep the ground moist, so wildfires don’t spread. More water in the reservoirs can mean fewer restrictions when watering your lawn this summer.
The months ahead are encouraging.
Warm waters in the Pacific Ocean could lead to more snow and rain here in the Rockies in March and April – a phenomenon known as El Nino.
Still there is cautious optimism.
“It’s way too early to be cheering victory or saying that we’re already going to have a great summer of water supply We still have some big months ahead of us as water supply goes,” said [Travis Thompson].
From 9News.com (Maya Rodriguez):
Our recent winter storm in Colorado put the state back on track when it comes to snowpack levels in the mountains. The snow — which was measured in inches in the metro area, but in feet in the mountains — means Colorado’s snowpack rebounded after a slow January.
“Statewide, it was a huge factor,” said Brian Domonkos, Colorado Snow Survey Supervisor with the USDA/NRCS. “Without the storm, snow totals and precipitation totals for January were going to be in about the 70 percent of normal range.”
Now, though, statewide snowpack is up to about 118 percent of what it would normally be at this time of the year. What does that mean? For now, you can expect good skiing, and later on in the year, it could be good news for Colorado’s drinking water supply…
What happens in January and February, though, isn’t always an indicator of what might happen from March until May. Still, the influence of El Nino out in the Pacific, usually means there is the potential for more snow in Colorado. In the mountains, snowpack season is longer than the traditional winter start of Dec. 21. Snowpack season starts in October and runs through April, when the snow begins to melt.
“We’re, at this point, about two-thirds of the way through the typical snowpack accumulation season,” Domonkos said.
Historically, February is one of the winter months which sees that lowest snowpack accumulation, before it picks up again in March and April. That means, from here on out, every flake of snowfall counts.