Snowpack moisture and its corresponding streamflow predictions for this spring are a carbon copy of the conditions that produced the arid, scorched summer of 2002.
“The numbers are virtually identical,” said Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Snowpack acts like a giant, frozen reservoir draped across Colorado’s mountain peaks and provides 80 percent of the water used in the state.
“The warm, dry weather, which was entrenched across Colorado in March, has had a devastating impact on the state’s snowpack percentages,” he said. The average snowpack across the state is now at 63 percent of normal and is eerily reminiscent of the conditions that preceded the drought of 2002.
In fact, water levels for the upper Colorado River at Dotsero is at 57 percent of average for April through July – identical to 2002’s forecast.
“The whole basin is at 50 to 60 percent of average, which is not good,” Gillespie said. “At this time of year in 2002, we were forecasting better conditions.”
In fact, the latest snowpack measurements on Vail Mountain show less snow than there was in April 2002, when the county and much of the West was on the cusp of the worst drought in more than 300 years. The snow moisture is marginally better at Fremont Pass at the headwaters of the Eagle River, where is it slightly above 2002’s levels, but still about five inches beneath average.
In March, snowpack moisture dropped as much as 30 percent in some of the state’s key river basins and has created a new record low snowpack for April, Gillespie said.
In 2002, however, there was so little precipitation from April through July – 0.13 inch – that the snowmelt occurred several weeks early and left little for the hot months of summer. The situation was exacerbated by hot and windy conditions that further depleted what water there was.
More troubling is the state of reservoirs that feed the Front Range. Some of those have not yet recovered from the large amounts of water taken from them in 2002 and may not fill this year unless they’re saved by a huge spring snowstorm.
Last year the Front Range was socked by a mid-March storm that dumped three to seven feet of wet snow and helped bring moisture levels to near normal.
There is some optimism in the short-term forecast, according to the National Weather Service. It’s calling for a winter storm to hit the Front Range and High Country today .
The long-term forecast, however, isn’t wet. It’s calling for warmer and drier than normal conditions. “In April, we still could have snowstorms,” said Weather Service Hydrologist Brian Avery. “Snowpack typically doesn’t peak until mid-April.”
Cliff Thompson can be reached via e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 949-0555 ext. 450.
Early springtime spurs some biz
By Cliff Thompson
Daily Staff Writer
Winter-hardened locals are reveling in the early arrival of spring and at the same time girding for what could be a dry summer.
Some are residents have already switched gears from poles and boards to spring equipment and are taking advantage of the warm weather. Those taking to the hills to ride and ski can still find occasional splashes of snow from high-elevation storms.
Spring in the mountains often arrives late or not at all and this year it has arrived early and has stayed. The mercury registered a record 73 in Avon March 31, the meltdown of the snowpack is well under way and the flow of the Eagle River at Avon is 165 percent of the long-term average, meaning mountain top snow is melting earlier than normal.
Bill Perry of Flyfishing Outfitters said he float-fished the Eagle River last weekend, and it’s the earliest by far that he’s been able to do so in the 24 years he’s been here. Darryl Bangert of Lakota Guides said he’s already kicked off Hummer tours of the back country and has even begun to make some rafting trips.
“We’ve never done these trips in March before. It’s way early,” Bangert said. “We usually start in April and May. It’s so warm out that people want to do something different.”
The weather has nurseries and garden centers busy, even if it’s a bit early to plant seasonal stuff. “It has sparked interest,” said Donna Smith, assistant manager at the Garden Center of Gypsum. “With the warm weather we’ve had, people get excited and think summer’s coming.”
But Smith said it’s still too early too plant. ” We do live in the mountains,” she said. “You can’t be fooled. Cold weather can come at any time.”
The normal busy season for garden centers and nurseries, she said typically starts about Memorial Day weekend.
But the warm weather hasn’t produced any surprises for Jeff Mohrman of Colorado Bike Service in Eagle-Vail.
“It’s certainly busy,” he said. “The second week of March is when we typically start jamming’. This year it seems pretty much normal.”