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Early snowfall no avalanche

The good news is that snowpack levels are 20 to 30 percent higher this winter than they were last year in the Roaring Fork River drainage and across Colorado.

The bad news is that the state’s snowpack is still a bit below average and those numbers will continue to shrink until the state gets more significant snowfall.

“It could be worse,” U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service hydrologist Tony Tolsdorf said. “We’re about 30 percent better than what we had last year, but we need to be over 100 percent.”



According to weather records, around 40 percent of the season’s snow will fall by Jan. 1.

“Some years we get lots of snow early. What we’re hoping now is that we record most of our snow later in the year,” Tolsdorf said.



The 2003 water season in Colorado runs from Oct. 1, 2002, until Sept. 30, 2003.

“Unfortunately, most of our basins are below average,” Tolsdorf said.

Alan Martellaro, division engineer in Glenwood Springs for the Colorado Division of Water Resources, provided some hope. Because it’s fairly early in the snow season, the averages can quickly change, he said.

“This time of year, one really big snowstorm could really change everything,” he said. “Also, a week or so of dry weather could change things.”

Colorado snowpack was 88 percent of average for Jan. 6.

The Upper Colorado River Basin had the highest percent-of-average snowpack in the state Monday with 94 percent of its average for that date.

That doesn’t mean, however, that it has the deepest snow. As of Monday, the Tower snow site near Steamboat Springs had around 95 inches of snow, but was still just 87 percent of its Jan. 6 average, 110 inches.

By comparison, Schofield Pass, which has the deepest snow of the six sites in the Roaring Fork River drainage, is buried under around 65 inches of snow. That’s 86 percent of its average for that date, 76 inches.

“We’re sitting slightly below average, which is not good,” Martellaro said.

The Gunnison, North Platte, Yampa and White river drainages each were at 92 percent of average Monday.

The Upper Rio Grande, an area that had severe problems from low streamflows last summer, is again low this year. So far, the Upper Rio Grande snowpack is just 76 percent of average.

Colorado is somewhere in the middle of Western U.S. states in terms of snowpack.

California, which has been hit by a series of strong storms in late 2002, sits at 113 percent of its average snowpack. Montana and Washington are around where Colorado was at this time last year, at 63 percent and 67 percent respectively.

In practical terms, another low snowpack could mean continued watering restrictions, less water for irrigation, reservoirs that won’t fill, low rivers and high fire danger.

But Martellaro said there’s plenty of time for the snow to pile up throughout the state.

“There’s a lot of winter left to come,” he said. “When we start getting into March, the type of runoff we’ll have becomes clearer.”


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