EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - The local snowpack is getting thicker, but it's still running about two-thirds of average, scientists say.
Snowpack in the Colorado River Basin, where we live, is sitting at 68 percent of average for the water year, said Maggie Hulstrand, assistant snow survey supervisor with the Natural Resource Conservation Service.
"That means we have a way to go to reach the average snowpack," Hulstrand said.
December's snowfall was 120 percent of average, pushing the region's average from 28 percent on Dec. 1 to 68 percent by Jan. 1, Hulstrand said.
"October and November were very dry. We had one significant storm in mid-November," Hulstrand said.
Across Colorado, the statewide snowpack was 36 percent of average on Dec. 1. It's now 71 percent of average, almost exactly the same as last year, Hulstrand said.
"We're where we were on Jan. 1 last year," Hulstrand said. "We still have a way to go. It's hard to recover when you have such a slow start of the season. Everyone is enjoying the weather, but it's not what we need for water in the spring and summer."
The snow is in pretty good shape for skiing and snowboarding, but the snowpack won't get any thicker this week. The National Weather Service office in Grand Junction is forecasting no snow through late next week.
The NRCS measures Colorado's snow year from October to October, Hulstrand said.
Weather watchers around the state are searching the skies as they hope to avoid a repeat of last year's dry conditions.
The spring runoff was the lowest in a decade with snowpack in April plunging from 52 percent of average to just 19 percent, according to the Natural Resource Conservation Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
We caught a break last year in the Upper Colorado River basin where reservoir storage was 127 percent of average and 119 percent of the 2011 record snow year.
Snowpack traditionally peaks on April 12, the Natural Resource Conservation Service said.
How they measure this
Most of the water in the western United States begins as snow during the winter and early spring. As the snowpack accumulates, hydrologists estimate the runoff that will occur when it melts.
They measure that snow water equivalent at several sites, including one on Vail Mountain.
Nearly half of last year's NRCS monitoring sites had completely melted out by May 1, four to six weeks earlier than normal.
The record low snowpack was the drought year 2002.
Nationwide, the plains states are in a drought and are expected to stay in one, according to AccuWeather.
Rainfall has been sufficient over the Ohio and lower Mississippi basins, but unless they moisture pattern changes in a big way this winter and spring, the Mississippi River above the Ohio River junction could be bone dry next summer.
An area of high pressure is likely to set up over the central Rockies and central High Plains, but the spring shouldn't be as dry as last year's, said Paul Pastelok, who heads AccuWeather.com's long range team of meteorologists.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.