Snowpack levels: Echoes of ’02 |

Snowpack levels: Echoes of ’02

Post Independent Photo/Kelley Cox

Snowpack readings in the Upper Colorado River Basin ” which includes the Roaring Fork Valley ” are getting eerily close to 2002 levels.

Sparse snow in the basin during the winter of 2002 made that spring’s runoff one of the poorest ever.

In turn, there were water restrictions across the state and the low snowpack, combined with a dry spring, contributed to one of the worst fire seasons in the Colorado history.

On Monday, the basin’s mountain snowpack was listed at 69 percent of average ” just 3 percent higher than March 29, 2002 ” by the U.S.D.A. Snow Survey Office’s Snotel sites, which are set up at various locations and elevations across the state.

Even more disturbing than the Colorado River Basin’s numbers are the results shown by local Snotel sites in the Roaring Fork River drainage.

As of Monday, the seven sites in the Crystal, Fryingpan and Roaring Fork basins showed that snowpack is just 61 percent of average, 2 percentage points lower than March 29, 2002.

“It is looking an awful lot like 2002,” said Dave Merritt, an engineer for the Colorado River Water Conservation District in Glenwood Springs.

Another similarity to the 2002 season is reservoir levels in the state.

“We had a pretty good recovery last year. Right now we’re right about where we were going into 2002,” Merritt said. “We’re nowhere near where we were coming out of 2002.”

A dry spring and summer drained reservoirs quickly that year, and the same could happen this year.

One possible piece of good news is that John Henz, a long-range weather forecaster who works at HDR Engineering in Denver, predicts that Colorado will have a stormy spring.

Henz said storms are building throughout the globe that have the potential of bringing moisture to Colorado.

“He doesn’t think it’s going to be like 2002,” Merritt said.

After a dry winter in 2003, Henz predicted a wet spring in Colorado ” and that’s exactly what happened. A huge blizzard on the Front Range and a steady flow of storms on the Western Slope brought snowpack levels up to or above average for the season.

Merritt said even if the drought matches the severity of 2002, residents of the state will be much more prepared.

“We’re more attuned to it. For the Front Range folks in 2002, it took them a while to respond. Now they’re very sensitive to it,” he said. “It is a desert, after all, and people tend to forget that.”

Contact Greg Masse: 945-8515, ext. 511

Area snowpack comparison between 2002 and 2004 (percent of average):

March 29, 2002

Independence Pass 79

Ivanhoe 65

Kiln (not listed)

McClure Pass 38

Nast Lake 56

North Lost Trail 61

Schofield Pass 80

March 29, 2004

Independence Pass 78

Ivanhoe 68

Kiln 60

McClure Pass 62

Nast Lake 17

North Lost Trail 62

Schofield Pass 78

Source: U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service

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