Without Active Spring Snow, State’s #Snowpack On Track To Be Below Average (March 2, 2021) — CBS #Denver #runoff

From CBS Denver (Jamie Leary):

Colorado’s high country is just weeks away from its average peak snowpack date. Current measurements are on the fast track to coming up short.

“Our snowpack has been struggling. We’re close to average, but not quite to average so the likelihood of getting average snowpack is pretty low at this point. It’s most likely that most areas of our state will have a little bit below average snowpack when we end the season,” said Becky Bolinger, Assistant State Climatologist with the Colorado Climate Center at CSU.

Bolinger’s specialty is drought, and the state of Colorado has been keeping her busy…

With the average peak snowpack for Colorado’s northern mountains in mid-to-late April, the time to make up for the deficit is running out. Bolinger doesn’t see March and April producing enough moisture to get back to average…

Graphic via the NRCS.

Snowfall in February, while not enough to make an overall impact, did help some. Denver Water reported its collection system was at 140% of its normal accumulation for the month. While it’s not far from normal for the season at 92%, Denver Water says it could use more…

Bolinger says utility providers are constantly monitoring drought conditions and advises people pay attention to what they have to say.

“We’re going to continue in this situation where we don’t have quite enough water in the system, so another thing I’m expecting is to see, as we move into the summer, is that many of us are likely going to have some watering restrictions.”

The good news? The lack of moisture means less new growth and fewer fuels for potential fires to burn, but Bolinger is still hopeful the state sees a few strong spring storms.

“What’s keeping me up at night, very specifically, is that we go unseasonably warm, and we don’t get much more snowpack, and it melts too fast, and it melts too early, and we start our summertime temperatures too early. That means we will get into a fire season early, and then we run the risk of having another large and devastating wildfire season.”

Utah snowpack basin-filled map March 2, 2021 via the NRCS.

From Utah Public Radio (Harriet Cornachione):

Last year, Utah experienced its worst drought in 20 years. Typically Utahns count on spring snowpack to remedy a dry year and while February snows have been a boon to ski areas the question remains: are they enough to generate an average water supply?

“In an average year, we’d still have about 40 more days of getting snowpack. So this storm was great. But we’re still supposed to be adding to that,” said Laura Haskell who is the senior engineer with Utah Water Resources.

She updates the U.S. Drought Monitor with Utah’s drought conditions. With 90% of the state is in extreme drought and 57% in exceptional drought, more snow is needed.

“One of the things that’s unique about this year is that yes, right now, we have 81-82% of normal snowpack for the state. But the big problem is the soil moisture, because we are in a domain that we have just not seen before,” said Jordan Clayton.

Clayton is a data collection officer with the National Resources Conservation Service, and is responsible for Utah’s snow survey. He said that even if Utah gets a normal snowpack by early April, stream runoff would still be well below average of how dry the soils are…

[Paul Miller] said based on current conditions at Lake Powell, they are likely forecasting the driest flow on record – about 60 years – in April. That forecast determines how much flow is going to be released out of Lake Powell for the rest of the water year. That impacts all of us…

Haskell noted that municipal residents may not know how current conditions impact the water supply for others, because they get water from a stored system. By being aware earlier of water conditions people can reduce their landscape water use which is one way to help.

West Drought Monitor February 23, 2021.

From Aspen Public Radio (Madelyn Beck):

A recent snowstorm that blew through the Mountain West was a welcome sight for states facing extreme drought. But across the southern half of the region, it may not have been as beneficial as it looks.

That’s because the storm came with a cold snap, and snow that forms in that extremely cold air doesn’t hold as much moisture…

Hendrikx said as a simple rule of thumb, every 10 inches of snow melts down to about 1 inch of water. If that snow forms in more extreme colds, though (like -20 degrees fahrenheit) it can produce half that much.

That translates to less runoff when it melts. Or rather, if it melts before it’s kicked up by the wind and faces sublimation…

Still, every bit of moisture helps in the weeks and months leading into spring. In places like Utah, Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico, the entire state is in a drought…

[Mary] Carlson said the mountains that feed the Rio Grande River have seen some good weeks recently, but they still need plenty more moisture.

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