#Snowpack news (January 22, 2021): Ullr you are falling behind

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

From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

Colorado is about halfway through its season for snowpack accumulation, and the numbers don’t look great.

According to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the statewide snowpack is at about 73 percent of normal.

“That’s the fourth lowest snowpack that we’ve measured for this date in the past 36 years,” said Brian Domonkos, the supervisor of the NRCS Colorado Snow Survey.

Domonkos said that vigilance means keeping an eye on streamflow forecasts and “being prepared that we could have below-average streamflow runoff and water supply conditions.”

Colorado continues to be in a bad drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Nearly three-quarters of the state is experiencing extreme conditions, the second-highest level.

One bright spot, Domonkos said, is that the snowpack in the Upper Rio Grande River basin is doing relatively well at 92 percent of normal…

On the other hand, the Upper Colorado River basin is one area that’s falling well short of average, with its snowpack at 68 percent of normal…

There’s still a chance that things can turn around this season. But he said the current outlooks show that’s unlikely.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 22, 2021 via the NRCS.

From CBS Denver (Chris Spears):

Colorado is facing a very uncertain spring and summer when it comes to water thanks to a widespread drought that developed last year. According to NOAA’s National Center for Environmental Information 2020 was the second driest year on record in the state since 1895. The driest year in Colorado’s recorded weather history was 2002…

Many times we’ll see a few dry months where drought develops, but it is often in just a portion of the state, or it will be followed by a wet period that either resolves things or at least keeps the drought from getting worse. But in recent history we find ourselves getting into longer periods of dryness where drought becomes widespread and reaches extreme to exceptional levels. The years 2002, 2012 and 2013 come to mind, in addition to other shorter bouts of widespread drought in years such as 2006, 2018 and 2019…

It hasn’t been this dry in Colorado since the record drought year of 2002, which was abruptly ended when a historic blizzard slammed the region in March 2003. The storm was one of the worst since state weather records started in 1872.

My kids and their friends built a small terrain park in front of their house near Sloans Lake after the March 2003 St. Patrick’s Day blizzard.

The multi-day storm dropped up to 3 feet of snow around metro Denver with more than 7 feet in the adjacent foothills. Strong northerly winds produced drifts in Denver up to 6 feet tall. Widespread damage was reported to trees, roofs and powerlines because the snow was so heavy and wet…

It’s hard to know what this year will bring but it is clear we need something to change with the current weather pattern to ensure we do not fall into a more dire situation when it comes to water storage and supply. In the short term the outlook isn’t the best since the planet is currently in a La Niña weather pattern, which is an abnormal cooling of the sea surface waters in the eastern part of the Pacific Ocean along the equator.

From The Denver Post (Ben Reppert):

Aside from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains cashing in on a beneficial storm track in southern Colorado, the rest of the state has been far below normal.

This has driven the statewide snowpack to its slowest start since 2018. It is also getting uncomfortably close to the minimum set in 2002.

Much of central and western Colorado has seen less than 25% of the typical month-to-date precipitation. In many mountain areas, this equates to several feet of snow that have been missing this month, and a snowpack that has largely flatlined.

Statewide snowpack currently sits around 73% of the long-term average. The current value is also getting inflated by the Upper Rio Grande river basin. This area roughly bound by an Alamosa-Salida-Silverton triangle is running close to normal when it comes to snowpack. Most of the other regions across the state are now less than 70% of normal…

Peak snowpack typically gets reached during the first week of April. By mid-April, the spring melt tends to ramp up quickly.

Given the current numbers, Colorado needs at least 133% of average snowfall for the rest of the season to reach a normal early April peak.

In the Denver area, this snow-starved January is not as much of a rarity. January is one of the driest months of the year for the Interstate 25 corridor and the Plains. A widespread snow event early in the month was enough to keep January precipitation more respectable in eastern Colorado, when compared to normal.

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