Colo. Basin snowpack drops 26 percent |

Colo. Basin snowpack drops 26 percent

Special to the Daily / Sandra DeGarieA drive up Loveland Pass tells the story of snowpack this winter versus last winter. Here, a photo from March 8, 2011; at bottom the same area on Loveland Pass photographed April 1 this year.

Snowpack percentages plummeted during March.

Warm, dry weather counteracted Colorado’s wet February, dropping snowpack in the Colorado River Basin from 75 percent of average at the end of February to 49 percent at the end of March.

“The boost in snowpack totals across the state was short-lived,” officials with the National Resource Conservation Service said in a press release. Statewide levels are now down to a “paltry” 52 percent of average, a decrease of 29 percent from the 81 percent of average measured March 1. The snowpack drop was the result of well-below average snowfall and precipitation and warmer-than-average temperatures, officials said.

The Colorado Basin isn’t the only place below 50 percent of average. The Yampa and White River Basins are also suffering, sitting at 47 percent of average.

An average winter brings about 20 percent of its seasonal snowfall in March, but the service’s automatic SNOTEL sites statewide showed accumulation was at 29 percent of that average. Snow had begun to melt rather than continuing to accumulate.

Officials said this is the driest winter since 2002, when the snowpack on April 1 was also reported to be just 52 percent of average.

A drought ensued in the summer of 2002, which was the same year of a number of highly destructive wildfires, many overshadowed by the immense Hayman Fire. Water availability is in a better position this year, though, as there’s more water in Colorado’s reservoir system. Statewide, storage values were at 108 percent of average at the end of March, up from 107 percent of average at the end of February.

Storage in the Colorado River Basin’s reservoirs is at 120 percent of average, compared to 116 percent of average at the end of February.

Levels currently exceed last year’s storage values, with the Colorado Basin’s storage at 106 percent of last year, and statewide at 104 percent of last year.

Elsewhere in the state, things are faring better, but not by much.

The South Platte River basin’s snowpack, while still above the statewide average, saw the largest decrease from conditions reported at the beginning of March. The basin’s snowpack dropped a substantial 34 percentage points from 89 percent of average on March 1 to 55 percent of average on April 1. Snowpack totals in the rest of the major basins ranged from 53 to 57 percent of average.

Typically, peak snowpack lands on about April 12.

“There is very little hope for significant improvements to snowpack conditions prior to the spring-summer runoff season,” officials said.

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