Storm restores state’s snowpack

Just a week ago, Colorado’s early-season cushion of winter snowpack had evaporated, with the state dropping to 93 percent of median levels, down 10 percent from the start of the year.

That was then, before a snowstorm that delivered two and in some areas even three feet of snow in the central mountains.

A storm that delivered what many have called epic powder amounts to many ski areas also rapidly restored the state snowpack level. As of Monday it was at 107 percent of median, said Mage Hultstrand, assistant snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Colorado.

And that was just last week. As much as two feet of additional snow could fall this week between the eastern portion of the Grand Mesa and the Elk and northern West Elk Mountains in the Aspen-to-Crested-Butte area, thanks to a new storm pattern that moved in Sunday night, said Joe Ramey, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Grand Junction. That storm brought an additional five inches of snow to Powderhorn Mountain Resort by Monday morning, the resort reported.

Recent days have brought a welcome change after a prolonged dry stretch in January.

“By mid-January things had dried up pretty good,” Hultstrand said.

But the storm late last week provided a “huge boost” to snowpack, she said.

The Upper Colorado River Basin, which was at 105 percent of median snow-water-equivalent as of Jan. 27, soared to 120 percent by Monday.

The Gunnison River Basin rose in a week from 91 percent to 103 percent of median.

Unfortunately, winter’s bounty has yet to extend enough to the southwest part of the state. The Upper Rio Grande Basin and the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins are both at just more than 80 percent of median. But the Rio Grande was at 68 percent, and the others were at 71 percent, just a week earlier.

Hultstrand said the Upper Colorado’s average is so good that it could afford to get just 68 percent average snowfall for the rest of the snow season to reach average peak.

But southwest Colorado’s dearth of snow, not to mention a major drought in California, continue to worry water-watchers including Jim Pokrandt, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District in Glenwood Springs. His concern is both how much snowmelt ends up flowing into the Colorado River more regionally this spring and how much demand there will be for it downstream.

“We can rejoice locally but we have to understand the bigger picture, too, and the bigger picture isn’t as rosy as we’re enjoying,” he said.

Ramey said a high pressure ridge close to the Pacific coast has lingered since around early December, acting as a wall that has forced storms to the north and over it, and leaving California, Arizona, New Mexico and the Four Corners area drier. The good news is that that pattern seems to be breaking down, bringing the promise of moisture to that region, including southwest Colorado, this week, he said.

He said storms early and later this week should favor all of western Colorado before things dry out over the weekend.


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