Will Garfield County see another booming snow year?
So far, snowpack in the Roaring Fork Valley is average. But does early snowfall mean we’re in store for another wet year?
After record and near-record snowfall late winter and in the spring of 2019 season boosted reservoirs and lifted spirits, the rest of the year has been on the dry side.
So far this season, the snow water equivalent has been right at average.
“Above Glenwood, we’re tracking right at on average,” said Don Meyer, senior water resources engineer for the Colorado River District in Glenwood Springs.
Snowpack for the entire upper Colorado River Basin is 110 percent of normal as of Friday, according to the SNOTEL automatic sensor network.
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For the Roaring Fork River watershed, the snow water equivalent was 103 percent of normal by Thursday, helped by late November and early December storms.
The percent of normal figure is compared to a 30-year average snowfall, which means this season so far is tracking with the average snowfall between 1981 and 2010.
For now, the snowfall is steadily tracking the average. But the future doesn’t look as bright.
“We’re in kind of a neutral el Niño phase,” Meyer said. “That usually means that the southwest is not going to do as well as if the Pacific temperatures were higher.”
The long-range weather outlook from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association predicts warmer temperatures and lower precipitation than average in the southwest from February to April 2020.
While 2019 was helpful in filling local reservoirs, droughts are more regional than local.
A better indication of total basin health is the status of lakes Powell and Meade, and for a variety of factors, those reservoirs are still struggling.
“Powell definitely benefited from 2019, but not as much as folks had thought initially. It got really dry in the last half of this year,” Meyer said.
One major factor in the depleted reservoirs is continued overuse in the lower basin, Meyer said. It would take a lot more than one good snowpack year to restore the reservoirs farther downstream.
“I’ve heard people talk that it might take five, six, or seven 2019s to get both Powell and Meade up to near full,” Meyer said.
The long-range forecasts, Meyer cautioned, are not guaranteed. The late winter snows of 2019 caught many off guard.
“Last year was quite a surprise. January was about average, December was kind of dry, then February and March were quite good,” Meyer said.
“What a difference a couple months make.”
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