High country snowed under
Northern Colorado at record levels; southern half just below the average
Snowpacks across Colorado’s northern mountains reached record depths by May 1, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The latest snowpack measurements show snow depths throughout the Yampa, Colorado, North Platte and South Platte basins are well above average and in many cases well above former records.
Surveyors paid special attention to unprecedented depths reported at the Tower SNOTEL (SNOwpack TELemetry) site on Buffalo Pass northeast of Steamboat Springs. This site, which annually receives the greatest snowfall of any location in the state measured by the NRCS, accumulated more than 200 inches of snow so far this winter.
That amounted to 72.6 inches of water content, well above the former mark of 71.1 inches of water measured in 1978, said Allen Green, state conservationist with the NRCS.
Green said the Tower site numbers set a record for total snowpack at any individual site in Colorado.
Several other sites across the north half of the state, which was affected heavily by a series of storms in December when the moisture-laden Pineapple Express roared across the state, reached record levels.
The 75-year old Cameron Pass snow course, west of Fort Collins, shattered its previous mark of 42.5 inches of water with a May 1 measure of 48 inches of water. That snow course dates from 1936, said Green, making it one of the oldest in the state.
“Even many of the old-timers have never seen some of the depths measured across northern Colorado this month,” Green said.
The late snowfall in April had an effect on long-term averages, said Mike Gillespie, state snow survey supervisor.
“This is the time of year we’re normally melting, and yet it’s still snowing,” he said. “These storms do tend to skew the long-term averages a bit, and if it keeps on snowing we’ll see even more effect.”
Snowpack conditions continue to be a different story across the southern half of the state.
The La Niña conditions that enriched northern snowpacks largely ignored the south, where some snowpacks are under 75 percent of long-term average.
Green said the latest surveys indicate the Rio Grande Basin has the lowest snowpack percentage in the state, topping out at only 72 percent of average.
It wasn’t quite as dire elsewhere across southwest Colorado, where snowpacks in the combined San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel basins improved slightly, although Green said those basins remain below average.
While snowpacks in the Yampa and White river basins lead the state at 225 percent of last year’s May 1 totals, the Colorado basin (222 percent) and Gunnison basin (195 percent) are close behind.
This means spring and summer water supplies should be excellent, Green said, and it bodes well for water users on both sides of the Continental Divide.
Except for the parched Southwest, water supplies across the state should be the best in the 10 years, Green said.
“With the exception of the Rio Grande, and those basins in southwestern Colorado, runoff volumes for the April through July period are expected to range from slightly above average to near record volumes,” Green said.
Reservoir storage, again with the exception of the Rio Grande River basin, remains near or above long-term average. Many of the reservoirs are being dropped slightly to prepare for what’s expected to be a near-record runoff.