#Snowpack/#Drought news: The North Platte (89%) and South Platte (82%) basins are the best in state

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

From the Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Jon Nicolodi):

…in comparison to years past, how is the snowpack of Colorado truly fairing? Is it as dire as it sometimes feels, and will it really matter once we fully move into spring and we aren’t expecting snowball fights and fresh snow on the slopes anyway?

SnoTel sites are automated stations that collect data on snow, operated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and there are 115 in Colorado alone. While numerous measurements are taken, the most commonly used is snow water equivalent. Snow height is measured, but it doesn’t take into account the density of the snow, which can vary between 5 percent and 20 percent.

The snow water equivalent is measured in inches and can best be thought of as what the depth of the water would be if you instantaneously melted the entire snowpack. Snow height is a favorite measurement of skiers and snowboarders. Snow water equivalent is a favorite measurement of scientists and anyone looking at water beyond the winter, which is a popular notion in Colorado.

In an end-of-February report, Nick Barlow at the Colorado Avalanche Information Center reported the snow water equivalent of all of Colorado to be averaged at 73 percent, compared to what it historically is at the end of February.

But not all areas of Colorado are favored equally with snowfall. The Front Range, including the North and South Platte basins, are at 90 percent and 91 percent, respectively. The lower half of the state, including the Arkansas, Gunnison, Upper Rio Grande and the southwesternmost watersheds, are in the low 60s or high 50s, bringing down that state average. The Yampa and the White in northwestern Colorado are at 81 percent of snow water equivalent compared to a median year.

The Colorado River watershed, including the Roaring Fork and any other tributaries joining the Colorado along the I-70 corridor, comes in at 85 percent relative to its median snow water equivalent. On the whole, not too shabby. But not inspirational either.

In most of Colorado, higher-than-average snowfall in February greatly helped these percentages. All of the previous months had been a bit dismal for winter, with November and December being particularly dry. The storms that did come were flanked by warm weather, so large portions of our snowpack melted away. In an average year, that snowpack and its snow water equivalent reach peak numbers by April 9 before melting as a whole, contributing to all of the industries that rely upon a hearty spring thaw, ample soil moisture and flowing water as deep into our dry summers as possible.

From The Summit Daily (Allen Best):

California got dumped on in late February and early March, with more snow forecast during the next two weeks.

“Pretty wild in #SierraNevada,” tweeted climate scientist Daniel Swain of the University of Southern California Los Angeles. The snow doubled the snowpack in California yet brought it up to only 37 percent of average for that date.

Snow, late in coming, was also welcomed in New Mexico. Taos opened up much of its steeps. Ski Santa Fe had its upper mountain open, but this winter has been very different: 49 inches of natural snow as of last week, compared to 100 inches on the same date the year before. Two years before it was close to 200 inches, reported the Santa Fe New Mexican…

The big resorts in Colorado along the I-70 corridor have been blessed more than the New Mexico resorts. Still, they’ve been pinched, too. Vail Resorts has four ski areas along the highway, including namesake Vail Mountain. The Denver Post reports that investors had been told early in the winter to expect between $646 million and $676 million in resort earnings. Last week, the company revised that prediction downward to between $607 million and $627 million.

Wildfires are now on the minds of some in southwest Colorado. There, rivers originating in the southern San Juans were at 54 percent of average, compared to 73 percent for Colorado overall.

The Telluride Daily Planet reports that fire managers in the San Juan National Forest plan to bring in seasonal fire crews about 30 days early this spring.

Gambel oak photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

One manifestation of the unusual winter is that January was so unseasonably warm that Gambel oak started budding on all aspects of hills and mountains up to 8,400 feet in elevation in southwestern Colorado. They have since been nipped by frost, but the leaves can bud out twice a year on the oak brush, says Chris Tipton, a fire management officer with the U.S. Forest Service. The hope is that they will not bud again and then be nipped by frost, leaving leaves that could be combustible when spring arrives for sure.

From The Taos News (Cody Hooks):

“For New Mexico, it’s a story of too little too late, and the lack of beneficial moisture has become evident statewide,” the report read.

The snowpack is the measure of snow in the mountains that is used to determine how much water will be available for irrigators and reservoir manager via spring snowmelt. In the Rio Grande Basin, the snowpack stands at 34 percent of normal.

The forecasted streamflow for the Río Grande at Costilla Creek, near the Colorado state line, for March to July is only 33 percent of average.

The state’s drought conditions worsened throughout last month. Taos County was among the driest spots in New Mexico, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

From the Weather Network (Mario Picazo):

The latest round of Pacific storms across the western U.S. has helped put a small dent in the overall U.S. drought situation. Moderate to exceptional drought now covers 30.6% of the Contiguous U.S., a drop from last week’s 31.3%. Extreme drought on the other hand, has increased from 3.2% to 4.8% and some of that increase continues to haunt the drought stricken Southwest.

During late February and early March, a very energetic jet stream finally took a dip to the south along the west coast opening the door for cooler than normal air to flow across the region. Along with below normal temperatures came a train of weather systems lined-up one after another, to bring rain and snow from central California to the northern Rockies.

Despite the active pattern in some areas of the west and northwest, many of these east moving systems have been drying out as they crossed the Rockies, leaving much of the Southwest and central and southern Plains with below precipitation averages.

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

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