#Snowpack #Runoff news: Small bump in the South Platte Basin, cold above 10,000′

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

And here’s the Westwide basin-filled snowpack map from the NRCS.

Westwide basin-filled snowpack map February 26, 2017 via the NRCS.
Westwide basin-filled snowpack map February 26, 2017 via the NRCS.

It was very cold overnight above 10,000 feet in the Colorado mountains. That’s good news. The warm temperatures and winds have the potential to become snow-eaters.

From The Albuquerque Journal (Olivier Uyttebrouck):

January and February have been among the warmest on record in New Mexico. But the warmer-than-usual weather has not severely depleted the plump mountain snowpacks that accumulated earlier this winter.

“The snowpack seems to be holding,” said Royce Fontenot, a hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Albuquerque. “We’ve got snowpacks at normal, or above normal, in all of our northern New Mexico basins.”

The state continues to benefit from hefty snow accumulations in the northern mountains in December and January, with a couple of new storm systems headed this way over the next 10 days.

New Mexico’s runoff season typically spans mid-March to mid-April and much will depend on what the weather brings over the next six weeks or so, Fontenot said Friday.

“If things stay the way they are, we’ve got enough snow in those upper basins that we will probably see some decent runoff volumes over the season,” he said.

And last year demonstrated that a healthy snowpack doesn’t guarantee a good spring runoff. In 2016, dry, windy weather in March destroyed much of New Mexico’s snowpack.

This year, forecasts suggest that New Mexico will get some additional rain and mountain snow over the next couple of weeks, Fontenot said.

“We’ve been warm, we’ve been windy, and that has had some impact on the snowpacks,” he said. “But we’ve got some systems coming in over the next 10 days that are going to help maintain the snowpack in the northern basins.”

[…]

In December and January, one storm system after another dumped snow on the mountains of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. Many parts of New Mexico received up to four times normal precipitation in January.

Fruit growers in the Grand Valley are worried about fruit trees. Some are budding already due to the warm up over the past few weeks. Here’s a report from The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

Fruitgrowers are casting wary eyes upward, hoping for cool — not cold — weather to swing in over western Colorado and restore some late-winter order.

As it stands so far, this February is shaping up to be the warmest February on record in Grand Junction.

Through the first 21 days of the month, the average daily temperature was 44 degrees, a half-degree warmer than the next warmest February, which occurred in 1907, according to John Kyle, data acquisition program manager for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

Historically, the average temperature for February is 34.5 degrees.

In fact, this February is on track to be warmer than March normally is. The average daily temperature in March is 43.9 degrees, Kyle said.

The reason for the abnormally warm weather is that the storms have come in from the warmer Pacific Ocean, rather than dropping down from Canada and carrying them with cold Arctic air.

While the abnormally warm weather pattern may not continue into March, residents shouldn’t expect prolonged cool, wet periods either. The forecast for Grand Junction calls for equal chances of temperatures and precipitation being below or above normal, Kyle said.

As it happens, unsettled weather is pretty much the norm and if anything, that makes predicting the future of the valley’s peach crop a bit fuzzy.

From The Laramie Boomerang (Ike Fredregill):

Compared to a 30-year average, Fahey said the Platte River Basin’s snowpack is at about 120 percent.

“I look at the Laramie Watershed all the way down into Colorado,” Fahey said. “The Colorado side is a little higher, 120-130 percent (of average). And the Wyoming side is at 100-120 percent. Combined, they put the area at about 120 (percent of average).”

Laramie Water Resources Specialist Darren Parkin said only a small amount of the city’s water is supplied by snowpack in the Snowy Range.

“Most of our water comes from the headwaters of the Laramie River,” Parkin said.

The headwaters originate in Colorado around Chambers Lake and the Rawah Range.

“That whole drainage area is where we get our runoff,” Parkin said.

With Laramie receiving about half its water supply from the Laramie River, Parkin said snowpack plays an important role.

“For the town itself, about 50 percent of our water on a normal year comes from the river,” Parkin said. “The west end of town is primarily supported from river water, and the east end of town is primarily supplied by the (Casper Aquifer).”

Additionally, the snowpack plays a vital role at Monolith Ranch.

“We can really structure our whole hay growing plan off the snow pack report,” he said. “(The snowpack) has been good this year so far — we started slow, but it’s picked up so far.”

Currently, the snow season is in its early phase, Parkin said.

“We’re in that transition period where you have that warm period with dry snow, but it should really pick up this spring with the heavier, wet snows,” he said.

However, more snowpack means more runoff, which causes increased variables for the Laramie Water Treatment Plant.

“High runoff years are more work because of the ever increasing changes in the water quality,” Parkin said.

All things considered, he said more water is rarely a bad thing unless it’s a safety hazard.

“It’s a bit too early to tell if the snowpack will be a flooding concern,” he said.

Wyoming State Engineer’s Office Hydrographer and Water Commissioner Adam Skadsen agreed.

“Early in the year, it doesn’t take too much snow to affect the percentages,” Skadsen said. “But it’s still up in the air what the spring snows will bring.”

[…]

Although the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office has instruments in place to measure the on-site water content of snowfall, Skadsen said he checks the snowpack manually each month to ensure the data is correct.

“The last time we were up there, there was a really good base with really heavy powder on top of it,” Skadsen said. “There’s a lot of water content to the snow.”

Looking at the data from Brooklyn Lake, he said the snowpack’s water content is above the 10-year average.

“Last year, we were at 13.5 (water content inches) and the median is about 12,” Skadsen said. “This year we’re a little above that — it’s sitting at 16.3 (water content inches).”

He said the increased snowpack was good, but he would like to see more.

“With the recent weather, I’m hoping we’ll get the numbers up a little more,” Skadsen said. “I’d like to see another foot on the mountains.”

From The Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):

he Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) recently released its Colorado Water Supply Outlook Report, based on Feb. 1 figures, which marks the second comprehensive update for Colorado since the “2017 water year” began on Oct. 1.

According to the report, statewide snowpack and reservoir levels had increased since the Jan. 1 report, and were well above average statewide.

snowpackreservoir022017nrcs

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