#Snowpack/#runoff news:

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map April 23, 2017 via the NRCS.

From The Vail Daily (Emily Brown):

We benefit from some of this snowmelt on a local scale, but most of the snowmelt flows into the Colorado River, whose watershed spans several states — Utah, Arizona, California and, of course, Colorado. This snowmelt supplies some of the bigger cities that are in or near the Colorado River watershed including Denver, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Tucson, Los Angeles and San Diego. So you might say there are a few people who depend on this water.


Vail usually sees an average snowfall of about 350 inches a year. Currently we have seen about 190 inches of snowfall this winter season, but the season isn’t over yet. Everything could all change in the next month, we’ll have keep our fingers crossed. On average, 10 inches of snowfall is equivalent to about 1 inch of rain. So right now we will see about 19 inches of water melting and flowing into our local Eagle River and ultimately into the Colorado River.

We are already seeing this snowpack begin to melt. It’s more prevalent in some areas than others, but we have been getting warm days which is causing the snowpack to melt little by little every day. If we start to see significant melting happening too soon in the season, then this can be a threat for not only our skiing, but also for the animals that rely on this snowpack for warmth and cover.

We have quite a few small mammals in our area that forage under the snow in what is called the subnivean layer. This is the layer at the base of the snowpack where the heat from the ground creates a warm habitat for small mammals like voles, shrews, mice and weasels. When the snowpack starts melting too early, water will percolate down into the subnivean layer, causing confusion for these animals and threatening their protective habitat. This is one reason why it is important to have winter-like conditions during the winter.

So as you stand, slide, or shuffle above the snowpack this winter, remember that snow is not only pretty and fun, it’s also an important component of our local ecosystem and beyond. The crystals that sparkle and glimmer on the hillsides today will be the drops of water slithering through the valley floor tomorrow. We all depend on this snow in some way, and it’s worth taking a moment to consider its value, to us, to our neighbors down the watershed and to the wildlife that share our home.

From The Crestone Eagle:

“The 2016-2017 snow season has been unpredictable at best. April and May are the months were we see most of our precipitation for the year, about 21%,” says Brian Domonkos, NRCS Snow Survey Supervisor. “So we’re in in a pivotal position right now. Poor precipitation in March isn’t a great start to our most pivotal point.”

Colorado is known for its unpredictable weather patterns. The element of surprise is also a consideration when attempting to forecast water availability across the state. “The bottom line is, across the state we need moisture if we are to remain above normal,” Domonkos goes on to say. “Although we got a great deal of snow through January, we’ve not had much since. Those hearty storm systems early on allowed us to coast thru February and March but we’re now at a point where we are reliant on future precipitation.”

NRCS’ Snow Survey and Water Forecasting Program provides western states and Alaska with information on future water supplies through the analysis of snowpack water equivalent and depth data at 866 automated SNOpack TELemetry (SNOTEL) stations. This network relays information about the depth and water content of the snowpack, precipitation, and air temperatures and other elements to a central computer on an hourly basis. Data for the Program is also collected by measuring 1,352 manually observed snow courses in the United States and Canada including the sites in Colorado.

“Ideally we always want to be 120 – 100% of normal snowpack because these conditions often yield the best runoff during spring and summer months provided future spring and summer precipitation is near normal,” says Domonkos. “What we also know however, is that at any given moment the various basins across the state hold various amounts of snow. Some basins reach their annual snow pack peak capacity, while others don’t. Even if a basin reaches its peak within a season, efficient runoff of that snowpack depends upon snowpack peak timing and amount as well as a host of other factors. For Example, the combined Yampa-White-North Platte River Basins already hit their typical snowpack peak for this year. But because it reached peak so early in the season, the runoff efficiency may be diminished. At the end of the day, more moisture across the state would be a nice thing to see.”

For more information about NRCS and its Snow Survey and Water Forecasting program, please visit: the NRCS Snow Survey Webpage in Colorado.

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