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April 4, 2013
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Snowpack soars after storms

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado -The good news is that the local snowpack is 143 percent of last year's.

The bad news is that last year was drier than comedian Steven Wright's sense of humor.

The Colorado River Basin - that's us - jumped from 85 percent of last year's snowpack on March 1, to 143 percent on April 1 and 74 percent of the historic normal, the Natural Resources Conservation Service said Wednesday in its monthly report.

The statewide snowpack is 74 percent of average.

"It's great that we're better than last year, but last year was the worst year on record," said Diane Johnson with the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. "We all know we've gotten some snow in March, it has stayed cold and we're not melting like crazy like we were last year. But we're still well below average."

SNOTEL is how you tell

Reservoir storage remains well below average statewide and all major basins in Colorado are expected to see below average streamflow runoff this spring and summer.

Most of the annual streamflows in the western United States start as snow during the winter and early spring. As the snowpack accumulates, hydrologists estimate the runoff that will occur when it melts.

It's all about the snow/water equivalent. That's the amount of water contained in the snow we get. Powder is great to ski, but heavy and wet snow contains more water.

Snow water equivalent is measured at several SNOTEL sites, including one on Vail Mountain.

On Wednesday, the Vail Mountain SNOTEL site read 12.5 inches of snow water equivalent. Normal is 20 inches, so we're at 62.5 percent of normal.

On this date last year Vail Mountain's SNOTEL reading was 2.6 inches.

In the drought year 2002 on this date, the Vail Mountain site was at 14.2 inches of snow water equivalent.

Vail Mountain SNOTEL peaks around April 25 most years, Johnson said. In a normal year the spring runoff ends in late June.

Reservoirs and rivers low

Reservoir storage in the Colorado River Basin - that's still us - remains at dangerously low levels - 66 percent of average and 55 percent of last year's totals. Streamflows are expected to lag well below average, the NRCS said.

One reason is because we've in this drought for more than a year, Johnson said.

"The land doesn't have much moisture in it, so when you have a snowpack this low and it starts to melt, a lot of it gets absorbed into the soil," Johnson said.

Last year, the July rains saved us, Johnson said.

It could be worse

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

The snowpack in southwest Colorado is fading like the Colorado Avalanche Stanley Cup hopes.

The Gunnison, Upper Rio Grande and the combined San Miguel, Animas, Dolores, and San Juan basins had declines of 3, 11 and 12 percent.

In these basins it is likely that they have already reached their peak snowpack for this year and are beginning to melt.

A warm and dry spring could also mean trouble for this summer's water storage. In the Colorado River Basin, reservoir storage is 66 percent of average and 55 percent of last year's record levels.

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 Apr 4, 2013 12:33AM Published Apr 4, 2013 12:32AM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.