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March 6, 2013
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Snowpack catching up, but still below normal

EAGLE COUNTY - The local snowpack grew slightly in February, but we need a wet March to make it last, says the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

February's storms improved the statewide snowpack, but not enough to boost conditions to normal, the NRCS said.

The Colorado River Basin - that's us - has 86 percent of last year's snowpack and 70 percent of the historic normal, the NRCS said. The statewide snowpack is 73 percent of average.

"The snow this year has arrived with great timing for conditions on the hill," said Diane Johnson from the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. "From a water supply perspective, if current conditions continue, it's setting up to be a more difficult summer than 2012, unless we get a bunch of summer storms."

Eagle County is still in "extreme" drought, Johnson said.

A warm and dry March could also mean trouble for this summer's water storage. In the Colorado River Basin, reservoir storage is 66 percent of average and 57 percent of last year's record levels.

"Unless Colorado sees weather patterns in March that bring well above average snowfall and precipitation to the state, there will not be much relief from the current drought conditions," said Phyllis Ann Philipps, Colorado State Conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Streamflow forecasts point to below-normal volumes for this spring and summer in all Colorado's major river basins.

Statewide, reservoirs are 71 percent as full as they usually are, the NRCS said.

Last year's drought followed three to four years of good water weather, said Scott Fitzwilliams, White River National Forest supervisor. This is our second dry year in a row.

Colorado's snowpack may be thin, but it's consistent this year, hovering at 71 percent of average since Jan. 1.

The snowpack has local weather watchers wary, but it could be worse.

In the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins, the snowpack dropped 5 percent as of March 1. The South Platte basin, which provides water to much of Colorado's Front Range, is 63 percent of average.

There's still time for the snowpack to reach normal, according to the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District.

Traditionally, the snowpack peaks in late April. In a normal year the spring runoff ends in late June, according to district data. Last year's warm, dry spring ended the runoff in late May.

While there's time, Mother Nature might not be much help, according to long-range forecasters with Accuweather. Another warm spring is expected across the Rockies, with worsening drought conditions in Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and portions of Texas.

"The core of warmth for the spring is going to center itself in the dry areas, the western plains, east-central Rockies, maybe extending down into the Southwest mid- to late-season," said Paul Pastelok, a long range forecaster with Accuweather. "Unfortunately for the western plains and eastern Rockies, I think the drought is going to persist, and it is going to be strong going into the springtime.

"It doesn't look good right now," Pastelok said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Mar 6, 2013 09:16PM Published Mar 6, 2013 09:11PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.