Snowpack well below average

Colorado River basin at 76% of normal level; state sits at 88%

Snow in the Elk Mountains west-southwest of Aspen, which drain into the White River Basin, is not as deep as it normally is this time of year.

Like a clock ticking down in a college basketball playoff, time is running out on Colorado’s chances for a snowpack comeback this year.

Snowpack levels in the Colorado River Basin and the state as a whole remain below average, the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service said Monday. It said snowpack percentages showed little to no significant improvement in March, with the normal snowpack peak of mid-April fast approaching.

Statewide, the April 1 snowpack was at 88 percent of average, unchanged from a month earlier. The Colorado River Basin is at only 76 percent of average, the agency said.

“Colorado continues to feel the brunt of a deeply entrenched El Nino weather pattern as the 2010 snowpack nears its normal seasonal maximum,” the conservation service said in a news release.

“Some El Ninos, we get really pounded in late spring, so there’s some hope there for this year,” the service’s Colorado snow survey supervisor, Mike Gillespie, said in an interview.

But the dividing line between above-average and below-average snowfall from El Nino also would need to shift further north. So far, the weather pattern has benefited southwest Colorado but resulted in less precipitation in the northern part of the state.

“A slight shift in the overall pattern can really make a huge difference” in the state’s snowpack totals, Gillespie said.

The conservation service estimates that there’s only a 10 percent chance of the state still reaching a near-average snowpack this season.

“It would take a pretty dramatic storm series to really make even much of a dent in this. It can happen and it has in the past a few times but at this point it’s not looking promising,” Gillespie said.

Although spring runoff is expected to be below average across much of the state, healthy levels of reservoir storage should help alleviate water shortages later in the year.

“The only bright side of the picture right now is really the reservoir storage, which is generally above average in most basins right now,” Gillespie said.

Statewide reservoir storage is 106 percent of average. It’s 111 percent in the Colorado basin. Gillespie said as reservoir operators try to meet downstream needs this summer, that will probably produce a storage deficit. That will make it important to get a good snowpack next winter to replenish those reservoirs.

As in college basketball, for Colorado’s snowpack, there’s always next year.


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