Drought taking a powder? Snowpack levels up from last year | PostIndependent.com

Drought taking a powder? Snowpack levels up from last year

Carrie Click
Post Independent Staff

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – If you’re noticing that the landscape seems greener, and the rivers seem to be running higher this spring than this time last year, you’re right. The U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service reported Thursday that the May 1 snowpack averages far exceed last year’s levels.

“The Upper Colorado River basin, in fact, is up 367 percent over this time last year,” said Mike Gillespie, NRCS snow survey supervisor. “That’s three and a half times over May 1, 2002. But because last year was a record low, that’s really not saying all that much.”

Gillespie said it’s still good news the state isn’t repeating last year’s hot and dry scenario – at least so far.

“We’re emerging from a serious drought,” Gillespie said.

As of Thursday, the Upper Colorado River basin was reporting a snowpack 99 percent of average. It includes the Roaring Fork River basin.

Snowpack measuring sites in both basins indicate the lower elevations are melting out, according to Gillespie, which can make the percentage numbers “pretty wild.”

Nast Lake at 8,700 feet in the Fryingpan basin, for instance, only reported 6 percent of normal snowpack. Total precipitation measures for that site, which includes rain, are at 88 percent.

Other sites in the Roaring Fork basin include Independence Pass at 98 percent and the Ivanhoe site at 91 percent. Kiln, 800 feet lower than Ivanhoe at 9,600 feet, reports snowpack 61 percent of average.

McClure Pass is at 74 percent, while the basin’s two other snow sites, North Lost Trail and Schofield Pass, are at 51 and 77 percent, respectively.

Factoring in the Nast Lake site, the Roaring Fork River basin snowpack is at 65 percent. Without that site, the Fork’s average comes in at 75 percent.

Last year’s averages as of the first part of May were at 50 percent.

The state’s seven other river basins are fluctuating as well. All are still above the 2002 readings.

Coming in at the high end is the South Platte River basin at 107 percent of average.

“That Front Range storm really helped them,” said Gillespie of the South Platte basin.

The Arkansas River basin is at 94 percent, while the Laramie and North Platte River basins are holding at 90 percent.

The Gunnison River basin reports 68 percent of average.

Southern Colorado is faring the worst of all areas in the state. The Upper Rio Grande River basin is currently at 63 percent, and the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins are coming in at 54 percent of average.

Gillespie is encouraged by the state’s overall numbers.

“Everywhere in the state, we’re doing better than last year,” he said.

Still, he said it will take time to recuperate from the effects of drought. He noted that reservoirs need to refill, and soils need to be replenished.

“The drought made soils so dry the ground is soaking up moisture. It’s likely we’ll not see the runoff we would normally,” he said. “That means a site that’s reporting 130 percent of average may only deliver 110 percent of runoff.”

Contact Carrie Click: 945-8515, ext. 518


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