#Snowpack news: Big snow today in SW #Colorado

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

Here’s the Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map via the NRCS.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 12, 2018 via the NRCS.

From The New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

Thousands of feet below [Sandia Peak], the Rio Grande Valley is dusty and dry. To the west, Mount Taylor should be a hulking white mass this time of year. Instead it’s just a deeper shade of blue than the sky. Along Sandia Crest, what snow there might have been has blown back from the edge.

“We’re up at just a little bit above 10,000 feet and in the world of weather this is high altitude,” says Jones, a warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque. “This time of year we should be not on bare ground as we are today, but [standing in] several feet of snow.”

The lack of snow in New Mexico’s mountains will have implications for farmers and cities in the spring and summer. And certain tree populations in many of the state’s mountain ranges, including the Sandias and Jemez Mountains, are already experiencing large-scale dieoffs. Drought and warming temperatures have weakened ponderosa pines and some conifers, which make them even more vulnerable to insect outbreaks. And communities should be preparing for wildfire season.

“We are standing at the driest start to any water year on record in the observational period, which goes back to the late 1890s,” Jones says. “There is no one alive today that’s seen it drier for any start to a water year.”

[…]

A water year begins October 1, and helps meteorologists, water managers, tribes, and various agencies plan. Jones says that New Mexico’s snow accumulation season typically begins in late October. From there, snowpack is supposed to build through early spring. Jones says that storms may still hit the Sandias and other mountains in New Mexico this spring—and this weekend’s storms brought one to six inches to places like Gallup, Santa Fe and Angel Fire. But new snow won’t likely make up for the existing deficit.

“We would basically need two and a half times our normal precipitation for northern New Mexico into southern Colorado to even bring us back to where we should be this time of year,” he says. “When you think about it, that’s just a tremendous deficit to overcome.”

It would be “pretty unprecedented,” he says, to get that much snow between now and early April.

On the last day of January, the National Weather Service even issued a Red Flag Warning for most of eastern New Mexico. These warnings alert people to critical fire weather patterns and usually start in the spring. It was the sixth they issued in January.

Winds increase fire danger and whip up dust storms. They also dry out soils and whisk snows away before they can melt and make their way into streams and rivers.

That’s a problem as New Mexico’s springs become warmer, earlier.

“As we’ve seen for the last several years, we’re not getting as much snow—and it’s warmer and so we’re melting that snow much earlier,” says Jones. Instead of snowmelt peaking in May and June, when farmers need that water for their fields and orchards, the waters are churning in late February or March.

And of course, people are already worried about fire season.

“This is a pretty scary year,” says Tom Swetnam, regents’ professor emeritus of dendrochronology at the University of Arizona, where he directed the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research. “I’m very worried about this year, which is shaping up to be an extraordinary drought year.”

[…]

Overlaid onto cycles of drought is long-term warming. As the Earth continues warming, droughts aren’t just dry. They’re also warmer than they used to be in the past, Swetnam says. “Now, when we flip into a drought mode on a yearly or seasonal basis, on top of that, the magnitude of the drying is exacerbated by warming,” he says. “It makes it even more intense.”

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

The snowpack at nearly a quarter of the federal government’s 200 monitoring sites around Colorado measured at the lowest or second lowest snowpack ever recorded, according to Brian Domonkos, supervisor of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service snow survey.

In southern Colorado river basins, the federal data through Feb. 7 showed snowpack in the Rio Grande River basin measured 33 percent of normal. In the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River basins, snowpack measured 35 percent of normal.

Northern Colorado fared wetter. Survey crews measured snow depths in the South Platte River basin that serves as a main source for metro Denver and northeastern farm fields at 93 percent of normal, and in the North Platte River basin at 88 percent of normal. The snowpack in the upper Colorado River basin that also is a key source of water for booming Front Range cities measured 79 percent of normal.

At this point with traditional winter passing, recovery to near-normal snowpack would require a major shift in ocean-driven weather patterns.

Temperatures also play a role. On Wednesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a bulletin noting that the average U.S. temperature in January was 2.1 degrees higher than the 20th Century average. Colorado ranked among nine western states where temperatures in January were much warmer than average…

However, Denver Water officials who supply water to 1.4 million people, said recent storms in mountains above its reservoirs brought snowpack at those locations to normal or better for this time of year.

“Denver Water is cautiously optimistic regarding snowpack,” spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said. “The next few months will determine the water available to us during spring runoff. It’s still too early to speculate on snow totals for the year because we often see good snow accumulation in March and April.”

Northern Water officials echoed that assessment.

“Obviously, we would rather be above average heading into February,” Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said. “However, our two biggest water-producing snowpack months are ahead of us in March and April. The next three months will prove critical. We’ve seen years turn around completely in the spring with those good, heavy, wet snows that add to water supplies once they melt.

“Is there concern? Yes, especially for those in southwestern Colorado where the numbers are much worse,” he said. We like to see snow everywhere in the mountains this time of year.”

A few years ago when mountain snow stayed at record-low levels in California and Nevada, water shortages and droughts hit hard. California officials ordered urban water use restrictions. Here in Colorado, state officials leave water supply planning and drought response largely to the discretion of local governments and utilities.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo) via The Cortez Journal:

On Saturday, a winter storm brought much-needed snowfall to the high country in Southwest Colorado. Purgatory Resort reported 6 new inches of snow within the past 24 hours. Two SNOTEL gauging stations at Cascade Creek, near Purgatory, reported 3 to 6 inches of new snow.

At Coal Bank and Molas passes, SNOTEL stations also recorded 4 to 8 inches of snow above 9,000 feet. Silverton reported 4 inches of new snow, Telluride 8 inches and Ouray 10½ inches.

Wolf Creek Ski area reported 4 inches of new snow.

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