State snowpack slightly above average for now

Midway through the winter, snowpack in Colorado’s mountains is nowhere near last year’s depth-defying buildup, but it is holding its own against historic averages.

Across the state, every major river basin is slightly above average snowpack for this time of year.

The Upper Colorado River Basin, which includes Grand Mesa, was at 117 percent of its historic average, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service Snotel report for Wednesday. The Gunnison River Basin was at 111 percent of average, while the Yampa and White River basins were at 113 percent. Rivers in the southwestern part of the state were collectively at 115 percent of average.

The South Platte River Basin, which had been slightly below its historic average earlier, was at 101 percent of average.

All of this is welcome news, said Nolan Doesken, Colorado’s state climatologist. But it doesn’t guarantee we’ll have adequate water this summer.

“It’s sort of a normal winter, although it may not seem that way,” he said. “Now the big question is: Will it be a normal spring?”

Although the snowpack is marginally above historic averages in most of the state, the historic seasonal peaks for snowpack don’t usually arrive for several weeks. That’s why
March storms are so important to the overall snowpack.

“February is a decent month, but it’s not a big snow month,” he said. “We don’t usually see much melting, but it’s not known for its big, whopping storms” such as those that traditionally arrive earlier in the winter, and often in March.

“We did get some good storms in December and early January, then it quit,” Doesken added. “Now we’re just getting little bits, enough to stay above average.”

The Front Range and Eastern Plains are particularly vulnerable to drought problems if they don’t receive adequate spring moisture, he said. Although snowpack is close to historic average at high altitude in the South Platte Basin, there has been little snow at lower elevations, and the ground is dry.

So, climatologists such as Doesken, irrigators and water managers, not to mention winter sports enthusiasts, will keep watching the weather, hoping the next storm forming to the west will bring the heavy snowfall that’s still needed in the mountains.


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