Storms to south help pile snowpack to 14-year high

The Jan. 1 snowpack in Colorado was at 136 percent of average, its highest level for that date in more than a decade, a U.S. Department of Agriculture agency said Wednesday.

The statewide snowpack also was at 159 percent of the Jan. 1, 2010, reading, the Natural Resource Conservation Service Snow Survey Office in Denver said in a news release.

The last time the state’s snowpack was this high at the beginning of the year was in 1997, when it was 160 percent of average.

The latest readings reflect a sharp turnaround in southern Colorado from just a few weeks ago. The San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel river basins were at just 57 percent of average on Dec. 16 but increased to 139 percent of average by Jan. 1 as Pacific storm tracks shifted south.

A measurement site on Coal Bank Pass north of Durango showed the recent storms dumped 78 inches of snow there, the equivalent of 16.7 inches of water, the Snow Survey Office said.

Meanwhile, the northern part of the state has continued to see consistent snowfall, the office said. Beginning snowpack levels for 2011 ranged from 126 percent of average in the South Platte Basin to 147 percent of average in the Colorado and North Platte basins.

The Colorado River basin snowpack was at 184 percent of the Jan. 1, 2010, reading.  The Yampa and White River basins were at 196 percent of a year ago and 145 percent of average.

The Gunnison basin was at 158 percent of average and 171 percent of snowpack a year ago. Those respective numbers were 105 and 116 percent for the Arkansas basin and 107 and 113 percent for the Rio Grande basin.

“This is a welcome start to the year for Colorado’s water users, and we’re hoping these conditions remain with us for the next few months,” Allen Green, state conservationist with the Natural Resource Conservation Service, said in the news release.

In terms of water storage in reservoirs, only the Rio Grande basin was significantly below average, at 78 percent. Statewide reservoir storage was at exactly 100 percent of average.

Basin storage was 105 percent of average for the Colorado, 102 percent for the Gunnison, 90 percent for the Yampa and White basins, and 102 percent for the San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel basins.


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