#Snowpack news: February 2020 precipitation was generally greater in N. #Colorado #runoff

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

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

February either gave generously or withheld stingily when it came to snowpack in Colorado, with little in between, and it was all dictated by a fairly sharp north-south dividing line that unfortunately fell north of Grand Mesa.

“Pretty much north of the Grand Mesa, north of Aspen all got well above-normal” precipitation last month, said Karl Wetlaufer, hydrologist and assistant supervisor with the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Colorado Snow Survey program.

“Below that was well below normal. There’s really not many parts of the state that got in the middle,” he said.

The Mesa Lakes snow telemetry site recorded its lowest February precipitation in the site’s 34-year history, at one inch of water. The two other sites on Grand Mesa — Overland Reservoir and (Trickle) Park Reservoir — recorded their second- and third-lowest precipitation amounts, respectively, for February based on records also dating back decades.

Snowpack at the sites ranged Monday from 65% of median at Mesa Lakes to 73% at Overland.

Statewide snowpack was at 103% of normal as of Monday, down just slightly from the end of January.

Snowpack is at 111% of median in the upper Colorado River Basin, 112% in the Yampa/White basins, 121% in the South Platte basin and 106% in the Arkansas basin. But the Gunnison River Basin is at 90% of median, the Upper Rio Grande, 94%; and the combined San Miguel/Dolores/Animas/San Juan basins, 84%.

Nine snow telemetry sites in northern Colorado had record-high precipitation last month, while six in southern Colorado had record-low amounts.

According to NRCS, the runoff-season streamflows in the combined far-southwest Colorado basins are now predicted to be just 64% of normal, and the forecast for the Gunnison basin is 72% of normal. The Arkansas, Colorado and Yampa/White basins are all predicted to have near-normal runoff volumes.

Reflective of conditions on Grand Mesa, however, the runoff streamflow for Surface Creek at Cedaredge is now expected to be little more than half of average, and the forecast for Plateau Creek is 78% of average.

Andrea Lopez is external affairs manager at the Ute Water Conservancy District, which serves more than 80,000 Mesa County customers. She said the district is concerned not only about snowpack levels on the Grand Mesa but the impact of recent warm temperatures on that snow…

Wetlaufer also is concerned about the recent warm temperatures. Even if they don’t completely melt the snow, they can warm it so when it’s ready to melt it does so faster instead of running off at a more measured pace, he said…

Ute Water’s two Jerry Creek reservoirs, in the Plateau Creek Valley, were 80% full a few weeks ago. Lopez said that fortunately, Ute Water was able to carry over quite a bit of water in them from last year due to the good snowpack last winter. While that will help with water supplies this year even if snowpack remains well below-average on Grand Mesa, two such years in a row could create what Lopez called a “bad situation” when it comes to reliance on those reservoirs.

From 9News.com (Cory Reppenhagen):

Denver Water said its reservoirs are all about 5% fuller than they normally are this time of year, and the water in the current snowpack is already up to 96% of peak.

“And that’s just a fancy way of saying, we’re almost to the top amount of water in the snow,” said Todd Hartman, a spokesperson with Denver Water. “We usually don’t see that until come sometime in April. Here we are on March 9th and we are already close to that peak amount of water in the snow. So we do have some reason to feel pretty good, but of course we will still be rooting for a good March and April.”


This is a stark contrast to last March, when Colorado got record amounts of snow. That lead to an avalanche cycle that was described as ‘historic’ by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. You may remember some of those snow slides even hit the highways…

Hartman said this season it was February that came through for them with 200% of average snowpack. He said that was very near a record for that month…

The summer monsoon season was not very active in 2019, and that left the Colorado mountains with well below average precipitation from July to October. Hartman said that will impact how some of the runoff reaches our rivers…

He said that despite that issue, the early stream flow forecasts are good for the Denver Water system, ranging between 100-132% of average.

Denver Water said it can’t tell for sure yet if the reservoirs will fill all the way up this summer, until the snowpack does reach that peak. That usually happens by about the second week of April.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 9, 2020 via the NRCS.

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