Snowpack hopes slowly slide away
GSPI Managing Editor
Snowpack in the Roaring Fork Valley – just 77 percent of normal for Feb. 1 – is among the best in the state, according to the latest snow survey figures.
The snowpack outlook was better on Jan. 1, but a month of dry and unseasonably warm weather liquidated the low elevation snowpack and did little to add to the season’s accumulation.
There is no doubt that Colorado remains in a serious drought, said Mike Gillespie, snow survey director for the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver.
“We need to get 150 percent of average for the next two months to get to average by April 1, and that’s pretty unlikely,” Gillespie said.
“Even an average snowpack will not be all that helpful. The reservoirs are so low and the soil moisture is so low, we’re going to lose a lot of the runoff to recharge the soil and refill reservoirs,” Gillespie said.
Based on an average of seven snow survey sites in the Roaring Fork basin, snowpack is 77 of average compared to snowpack measured on Feb. 1 from 1971 through 2000. It’s 105 percent of the snowpack measured in the basin at this time a year ago.
The deepest snow in the basin is on Schofield Pass, between Marble and Crested Butte, where a remote site relayed a signal indicating snowpack holding 14.4 inches of water. This time of year, the snowpack is usually 25 percent water, so the site is estimated to have 58 inches of snow.
But Schofield and two other snow survey sites in the Roaring Fork basin – McClure Pass and Nast Lake – have less snow than was measured a year ago, during one of the worst drought years on record.
Statewide, the picture is even worse.
In an average of the 155 snow courses across the state, snowpack is just 70 percent of average, the NRCS reports.
“Everything is above last year’s readings, but we’re approaching last year in a couple of areas,” Gillespie said. “If we continue the trend of the last two months for the next two months, we will be where we were last year.”
Basin by basin, the drought is severe in all but the Gunnison, Colorado, Yampa and White basins.
The entire Colorado River basin is 84 percent of normal and 119 percent of a year ago.
The White and Yampa basins are 78 percent of normal and 117 percent of a year ago.
The Gunnison basin is 73 percent of normal and 117 percent of a year ago.
The North Platte basin is 72 percent of normal and 125 percent of a year ago.
The Arkansas basin is 68 percent of normal and 118 percent of a year ago.
The San Juan, Animas, San Miguel and Dolores basins are 63 percent of normal and 123 percent of a year ago.
And the Rio Grande basin is 58 percent of normal and 120 percent of a year ago.
Gillespie said long-range weather forecasts call for above average spring snowfall and rain on the eastern plains of Colorado.
“But that tendency drops off as you go west, and for western Colorado, there’s not much hope for a wet spring,” he said.
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