#Snowpack news

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map via the NRCS.

From TheDenverChannel.com (Oscar Contreras):

Back in September, Denver7 First Alert Weather Chief Meteorologist Mike Nelson projected Colorado would probably see a La Niña-type winter: A system that favors the northern mountains of Colorado with an abundance of snow.

Nelson predicted that the Denver area could see about 60 inches of snow while Foothill locations could see up to 100 inches of snow through early May.

Whether that ends up happening is still up in the air, but again, the snowfall totals in the mountains point to good prospects…

Colorado’s 2017 “water year” started off slow — really slow, according to National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) officials.

“From the beginning of the water year through November 17th, 2016, statewide Colorado snowpack was off to the worst start in over 25 years at 6% of normal and year-to-date precipitation,” said Brian Domonkos, a snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

But things changed quickly after Nov. 17.

“From November 17th, 2016 through January 1st, 2017 snowpack in the mountains grew at the fastest rate dating back to 1986, with an [sic] statewide gain of 7.4 inches of snow water equivalent,” said Domonkos. “That increase is greater than 1997, 2008, and 2011 for the same period in perspective years.”

Domonkos went on to say, “As of January 1st, 2017, Colorado statewide snowpack is a healthy 114% of normal, riding in on the back of a December which saw 171% of normal precipitation.”

From The Summit Daily News (Kevin Fixler):

Arapahoe Basin and Loveland ski areas each reported 11 inches Sunday to Monday, and Breckenridge Ski Resort noted a respectable half-foot as well. Both Copper Mountain and Keystone resorts touted a very healthy 9 inches over that same time. The month of January has been particularly kind to the region’s ski meccas, with Copper receiving 27 inches in just the first nine days of 2017, and Keystone more than 30.

“It has certainly been a snowy winter season at Keystone,” Sara Lococo, spokeswoman for Keystone Resort, said by email. “January is shaping up to be a great snow month as well, as we’re already received 32 inches.”

The 81 inches Keystone — the area peak that typically averages the lowest annual total — reported for December made for the third-snowiest single month in the resort’s history. After a slow start to this year’s ski season, powder hounds could not be happier and serious accumulations appear in the week’s forecast…

More and more snow is great for both the resorts and the local economy, assuming the roads can be maintained to levels that allow the visitors and locals to get around. But it’s the rising reserves from all the falling precipitation in the community that has all the water wonks most excited.

“Oh, they’re huge,” said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District, of the recent snowfalls. “And there’s some reason to be optimistic, because the rest of week is supposed to be wet. Next week we may dry out a little, but into the weekend and looking out into January, the above-average precipitation should continue.”

Kuhn’s organization is a Glenwood Springs-based public water policy agency in charge of maintaining the Colorado River Basin, which provides water to millions and millions of people across multiple western states and Mexico. Strong snowpack years usually result in good summers for water, as commonly measured by what ends up in Lake Powell in northern Arizona before ultimately reaching Mexico’s Gulf of California.

In the meantime, Kuhn and crew monitor daily projections for water runoff produced by the basin forecast center. Current models suggest that if even only average water from the sky in the form of snow descends in the region through the rest the cold season, levels at Lake Powell should reach 7.42 million acre-feet. That’s about 300,000 more than a median year once runoff is officially totaled in July, and there’s a good chance well more than average snow will fall through April and May.

“This current tropical system we have is very wet,” said Kuhn. “It’s a warm, Pacific front that came to California and raised snow levels in the Sierras quite a bit, and they’ll go up a little here, too. After this series of storms, we could be over 8 million acre-feet and well into a strong runoff.”

That total wouldn’t be a record, but it would be the biggest water year since 2010-11, which had significant snow totals here in Summit County. That’s the season Breckenridge Ski Resort, with its average annual total of 353 inches, reported an all-time high with an incredible 520. Copper, with a yearly average of 304, declared a record of its own, with 390 inches.

Should 2016-17 meet or surpass present expectations, that would be four straight average-or-better seasons in what is otherwise considered a relatively dry stretch. Anymore, average water years between 90-110 percent of normal Lake Powell levels are deemed satisfactory for fulfilling the appetite from those western states with rights to the vital resource.

Of course, the snowpack can shift dramatically year to year, and there’s no telling how exactly it will play out this season before the start of May. The ski resorts, and their eager patrons, want only for the snow to keep falling. Following a slightly below-average 2015-16, another record year would be greeted warmly by both, in addition to these devoted water watchers.

“Things can still drop off,” said Kuhn. “We’re in a relatively wet period though, and nobody’s been complaining in Colorado about the ski conditions for a while, or the runoff. It’s looking up, but let’s see what happens in February, March and April — the rest of the snow season.”

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