Deep thought: How much snow will fly in March?
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The fences are beginning to disappear around Steamboat Springs.
With more than 350 inches of snow this winter, the area and its eponymous ski resort have reached what they call a “snow milestone,” that elusive “four-wire winter” where fences are buried four wires deep.
So how much deeper will the snow get?
Tradition loves to say March typically is the state’s snowiest month but really the numbers vary widely, said Tom Renwick with National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
Looking at long-term snowpack data from around the Western Slope, Renwick noticed it comes in a general bell curve from November through March but with many fluctuations.
Steamboat, for example, with data going back nearly a century, averages 20 inches of snow in November, maxes out at 36 inches in January and falls back to 23 inches in March.
“So far this year, they’ve had only 12 inches but it’s still early,” Renwick said. “Last year they had 19 inches in March, so the data is all over the place.”
Similarly, the 40-year snowfall average around Blue Mesa Reservoir is 12 inches in December, but only 6 inches in March.
“Wow, this year they’ve only had 2 inches in March,” Renwick said. “But it’s only the 13th, so there’s still a lot of time left in the month.”
Aspen appears to be the most-consistent of the areas Renwick looked at, reporting an average of 27 inches in November, 26 in December and 28 in both February and March.
But remember, those are only averages.
Earlier this month, Silverton picked up 28 inches in just 48 hours, with Telluride reporting 14 inches and Purgatory at Durango Mountain Resort amassing 19 inches in the same time period.
“A lot of (where the snow falls) depends on whether there is a La Niña or El Niño condition,” Renwick said. “This year we have La Niña and the northern areas got lots of snow.”
Thanks to that succession of early storms, snowpack totals statewide are an estimated 115 percent of long-term average as of March 1.
With about one-quarter of the snow season remaining, the National Resources Conservation Service said most of the state can bank on seeing average to above average spring and summer runoff.
Flows out of Ruedi Reservoir are being increased “in anticipation of what we are expecting will be an above-average run-off season late this spring,” said Bureau spokesperson Kara Lamb.
Similarly, with the April through July inflow into Blue Mesa Reservoir forecast at 800,000 acre feet, the Bureau will begin increasing releases to accommodate the runoff.