Much more snow needed just to get to average

Five-year-old Weston Hildebrandt puts his weight behind the snow shovel as he helps his father Teddy clear several inches of fresh snow off of his next-door neighbor’s driveway on North Sherwood Drive on Wednesday.

The heavy slushy snow that weighed down shovels Wednesday morning might be a sign of recovery from the drought, but the Colorado high country will need much more of the same.

Though the Tuesday night storm was the “first encouraging sign” from the skies, it “will just get us started on the way back to average,” Erik Knight, a hydrologist with the Grand Junction office of the Bureau of Reclamation, said Wednesday after a snowstorm covered the Grand Valley with as much as 6 inches of snow.

Officials won’t know until later just how much moisture the storm actually dropped over western Colorado and the high country that feeds into the Gunnison River and then the Colorado River.

The snow, however, marks a turnaround from October and November, the first two months of the water year, as it’s referred to by hydrologists and water managers.

The October-November totals were “on par with some of the worst records” going back to the early 1980s, Knight said.

Given the poor beginning of the water year, the mountains will likely need two solid winter months of snow “and maybe something big in the spring” to boost the snowpack—and its moisture content—back to average, Knight said.

Snowpack for the Gunnison Basin was at 39 percent of normal on Nov. 30, Knight said. That means that the remainder of winter will require 120 percent of average to pile up enough snow for an average year, he said.

Not all storms are equal, however. Dry, fluffy snows eagerly awaited by skiers don’t pack the moisture wallop that a heavy, wet snow does, he said.

How much water was dropped over western Colorado will be determined by a system of snowpack and other climate sensors operated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service in the high country.

The heavier and wetter the early season snow, the better, Knight said.

A frozen, compacted “snowpack tends to hang around a little longer,” prolonging the spring runoff, Knight said.


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