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April storms not driving off drought

Cliff Thompson
The Gore Creek along Highway 6 is significantly low for this time of year. Weather experts are anticipating conditions similar to the drought of 2002. Vail Daily/Shane Macomber
Daily file photo |

Last weekend’s snowstorm helped to improve the mountain snowpack and summer water picture outlook by adding more snow and slowing the melt of the existing snow.

What it didn’t do is substantially improve the summer water picture.

The storm dropped eight inches of snow on Vail and Beaver Creek and lesser amounts in the valleys. More important, it slowed the melt of the snowpack, which acts like a giant frozen reservoir hanging in the mountains. When the snow melts it provides 80 percent of the water used statewide.

But the snow level as of Friday was just 65 percent of average and the situation seems poised to fulfill the drought predictions of water experts. Snowpack in the Eagle River drainage is nearly identical to that preceding the unprecedented drought in 2002, which was the worst in more than three centuries.

Last weekend’s storm increased the snowpack in the Colorado and Eagle River basins 3 percent to 68 percent of average, said Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resource Conservation Service. On the river basins draining to the cities of the Front Range, which are drier than those on the Western slope, April’s precipitation dramatically improved the snowpack. It went from 58 percent of average on April 1 to 76 percent on April 12.

The first 13 days of April were far wetter than average, Gillespie said, but it wasn’t enough to bring the snow and moisture levels up enough to counteract the lack of snow in March. Snow in the Colorado River Basin form April 1 to 13 was 170 to 180 percent of average for those two weeks, Gillespie said.

The flow of the Eagle River Friday – 251 cubic feet per-second – was average. Earlier in the month, warm windy conditions had driven the snowpack to melt early and the river was at nearly twice its average flow.

That’s the good news. The bad news is last weekend’s snow has already melted. Snowpack moisture in the Eagle River is back to where it was before the storm, said Gillespie.

“We’re on the downward trend,” he said. “It’s quickly starting to melt out again. It’s probably safe to say we’re not seeing any storms on the horizon that will boost (snowpack) much higher,” he said.

Unsettled weather this weekend could bring some light snow and lots of wind. Higher elevations could see a couple of inches of snow, said Jim Daniels of the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service. He said some of the .

Cliff Thompson can be reached via e-mail at: cthompson@vaildaily.com or by calling 949-0555 ext. 450.


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