#Snowpack news: Cautious optimism about current accumulations

Colorado statewide snowpack basin-filled map February 7, 2019 via the NRCS.

From The Glenwood Springs Post Independent (Thomas Phippen):

In the Colorado River basin, snowpack was 112 percent of normal as of Feb. 1, according to a Natural Resources Conservation Service report released Wednesday. Statewide mountain snowpack improved from 94 percent of normal Jan. 1 to 105 percent of normal Feb. 1…

Mid-January marked the halfway point to peak snowpack accumulation, which is usually in April. February snowfall will be an indicator of how positive the year will be for water. But, with precipitation highest in March and April, the critical months of the winter and early spring season are still to come.

“It could go south, but I’m encouraged by where we are right now,” [Brian] Domonkos said. “Hopefully, this above-average weather pattern will continue.”

The state as a whole is slightly above normal snowpack, but there are still areas in southern Colorado with below-average snow. The Rio Grande basin is at 81 percent of median snowpack, but still has more than double the snowpack compared with last year.

More locally, as of Jan. 31, snowpack in the Roaring Fork River watershed was at 116 percent of median, according to the latest Roaring Fork Conservancy snowpack and river report.

While the news is good so far, the Colorado River Basin will need quite a bit more snowpack to have a normal runoff year, according to Don Meyer, senior water resources engineer with the Colorado River District.

“The snowpack is currently above average, but in order to get normal or average runoff, we need additional snowpack,” Meyer said.

Since 2000, the Rocky Mountains have had sub-average snowpack, and the runoff is getting earlier and lasting shorter amounts of time.

VIC modeled soil moisture February 6, 2019 via the Colorado Climate Center.

Much of the Colorado River Basin still has drier than average soil, or low soil moisture content, according to data from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.

Before the melting snow reaches the streams and rivers, it has to go over soil that will absorb the water if it’s still too dry.

“Soil moisture has to improve in order to provide some impetus for an efficient runoff,” Meyer said. That most likely won’t happen until the snow begins to melt.

It’s difficult to know how much above average the snowpack needs to be to replace the moisture in the soil.

Meyer cautioned that one good season wouldn’t be enough to show that the drought trend is ending, and that becomes difficult as climate change leads to more variability, he said.

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