#Snowpack news

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 19, 2018 via the NRCS.

From The Vail Daily (Scott Miller):

According to the mountain reports on Monday, Feb. 19, posted before an afternoon storm settled in, Vail Mountain had received 11 inches of snow in the past seven days. Beaver Creek had received 17 inches in the same period…

The winter snow drought has been caused, in part, by a persistent ridge of high pressure over the desert Southwest and Southern California. That, combined with a months-long northerly track of the jet stream, pushed snow-making storms to the north of Colorado.

Jimmy Fowler, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Grand Junction office, said that high pressure ridge had broken down a bit recently. More important, through, a low pressure system is now established off the coast of Southern California. That system has been sending some snow this way.

The current snow season has been unusual in that event a weak “La Nina” effect — cooler-than-normal water temperatures in the central Pacific Ocean — generally benefits the northern and central mountains in Colorado.

That hasn’t happened, and the area’s snowpack has suffered as a result.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has snow-measurement sites around the mountains. The Eagle River Water & Sanitation District tracks several: on Vail Mountain, at Copper Mountain — near the headwaters of Gore Creek — and at Fremont Pass — near the Eagle River’s headwaters.

Those numbers give water officials a look at how much water is in the current season’s snow. That’s essential, since snowpack is essentially the valley’s reservoir for summer water supplies.

The news is OK at Copper Mountain and Fremont Pass. Compared to the 30-year median snowfall, Copper Mountain was at 85 percent of normal on Monday, Feb. 19. The Fremont Pass site on the same date was at 107 percent of normal.

Vail Mountain, though, Monday was sitting at 69 percent of the 30-year median amount. The 8.8 inches of “snow water equivalent” was below even the lowest year on record, the historic drought season of 2011/2012.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Chhun Sun):

The Arkansas and Rio Grande river basins are “extremely low due to warm weather and sparse precipitation,” according to the National Weather Service in Pueblo.

Statewide, the snowpack at the beginning of February was at 59 percent of normal, a sharp drop-off from last year when it was above 100 percent in every watershed. The Arkansas basin is at 55 percent, and the Rio Grande at only 31 percent.

In January, the snowpack was at its worst levels in more than 30 years.

Colorado Springs has received 9.1 inches of snow so far this season. That’s nearly 10 inches below normal through January, according to weather service data.

Still, not all the news is bad; reservoirs haven’t been impacted much yet and the snowiest months are still ahead…

According to the most recent statement from the U.S. Drought Monitor, El Paso County remains in a moderate drought. The city recorded just .16 inches of precipitation and 1.7 inches of snow last month, both well below normal.

The lack of snow is particularly troubling for downstream states that rely on the Colorado River. Based on current conditions, Lake Powell, one of the most important reservoirs in the Southwest, could expect just 47 percent of its average inflow.

Powell, along with Lake Mead on the Nevada-Arizona border, helps ensure the Colorado River system has enough water to get through dry years. The river supplies water to about 40 million people and 6,300 square miles of farmland in seven states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Some climate scientists say global warming is already shrinking the river. A study published last year by researchers from the University of Arizona and Colorado State University said climate change could cut the Colorado’s flow by one-third by the end of the century.

Wildfires, once mostly a concern during late spring through early fall, are becoming a year-round danger in the state because of drought…

Time though is still on the state’s side. Nearly two weeks are left in February, and the month averages 4.9 inches of snow, according to the weather service. In March, the average snowfall is 8.1 inches.

From the Associated Press via KOAA.com:

Heavy snow and frigid wind chills are blasting much of the Rocky Mountain region.

The National Weather Service predicts at least 6 inches (15 centimeters) of snow from the Colorado high country through most of Wyoming, where winter storm warnings are in effect.

More than a foot of snow (30 centimeters) could fall in some mountainous areas.

The forecast Monday and Tuesday also calls for gusty winds in much of Wyoming and western Montana. That means wind chills as much as 30 degrees below zero (-34 Celsius).

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