#Snowpack news: The Laramie Valley is doing OK

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 27, 2018 via the NRCS.

From The Gillette News-Record:

Increased snowpack near the Wyoming-Colorado border could mean average water supply for the Laramie Valley this year, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration representative said.

Despite below-average snowpack at the Laramie River’s headwaters in Cameron Pass, Colorado, NOAA Hydrologist Jim Fahey said Albany County’s water supply prediction was unusually similar to 2017’s…

Laramie Water Resources Administrator Darren Parkin said one reason the water supply is doing so well is an influx of precipitation around Dead Man Hill and Roach in Colorado near the Wyoming border.

“We were around 83 percent (of average water supply) on the Laramie River at the beginning of the month,” Parkin said. “Today, we’re at about 111 percent, so we’re tracking up.”

Only a small amount of the city’s water is supplied by snowpack in the Snowy Range, Parkin explained. Most of Laramie’s water comes from the headwaters of the Laramie River, which originate in Colorado around Cameron Pass, Chambers Lake and the Rawah Range.

While the city does not use reservoir storage, relying instead on groundwater wells on the Casper Aquifer in a time of drought, Parkin said Lake Hattie was about 67 percent full and Gray Rocks Reservoir near Wheatland was completely full, which would benefit Albany County’s agriculture industry.

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The statewide snowpack reached 74 percent of normal as of Friday, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service. That’s up sharply from 59 percent as of the start of the month.

Chris Cuoco, senior forecaster at the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said basin-by-basin increases since Feb. 1 are even better than he’d realized until checking the data. They include:

■ The Yampa/White River basins, at 81 percent of median Friday, up from 72 percent.

■ The Upper Colorado River Basin, 85 percent, up from 75 percent.

■ The Gunnison basin, 63 percent, up from 48 percent.

■ The San Miguel/Dolores/Animas/San Juan basins, 55 percent, up from 36 percent.

■ The Upper Rio Grande basin, 59 percent, up from 35 percent.

“It’s a better increase than I would have thought, so that’s good — (up) to the tune of 20 percent down south, so that’s a pretty good jump,” he said.

Nevertheless, the snowpack deficit remains significant. Karl Wetlaufer, assistant snow supervisor for the NRCS Colorado snow survey program, says that with less than two months left in the typical snow accumulation season, the kind of snowfall needed to reach peak accumulation has happened only twice out of the last 36 years.

Klaus Wolter, a research scientist in Boulder with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado, said the recent shift to a wetter weather pattern, while good news, is “a Hail Mary pass that’s not going to succeed. It’s not going to turn the game around.”

Abundant recent snowfall enabled Powderhorn Mountain Resort to return to a seven-day-a-week schedule this week. Resort spokesman Ryan Robinson said Powderhorn had gotten 6 or 8 inches for the day as of late afternoon Friday, 8 inches the prior 24 hours, and almost four and a half feet over the last two weeks.

But Wetlaufer said that even with the snowier weather of late, three automated snow measurement sites on Grand Mesa remained at record-low levels as of Thursday, based on records dating back 29 to 40 years, depending on the site.

A breakdown in a high-pressure ridge over the western United States has allowed storm systems to move through the state, particularly more to the south where snowfall has been meager this winter…

He noted that as of Tuesday, southwest Colorado was listed as being in extreme drought, with much of western Colorado in severe drought…

Both Wolter and Wetlaufer worry about a dearth of snow at some lower-elevation sites across the state…

And while Colorado has been blessed by some wet Mays in recent years, “I just don’t see the writing on the wall in that direction” this year, Wolter said.

The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center currently is saying there’s a probability of both warmer and drier conditions than normal in Colorado over the next three months.

Meanwhile, Jeff Derry, executive director of the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies in Silverton, is sounding another concerning note about this year’s snowpack.

At a field site on Red Mountain Pass, the center’s Colorado Dust-on-Snow program monitors weather events that blow dust onto Colorado’s mountains in the winter, which can accelerate melting once that dark dust layer is exposed to sunlight in the spring.

Derry wrote on the center’s website that winds gusting up to 83 mph out of the southwest early this week resulted in the first significant dust storm the center has observed this season.

“Because this event is more than a meter from the ground in the snowpack, we expect this event to have hydrologic consequences once exposed in the spring,” he wrote.

He said the dust-on-snow program team will begin statewide sampling tours in March to determine the extent and severity of the dust storm, “which is likely widespread with locales like Aspen Mountain reporting dust arriving on this storm front.”

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