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Low snow high, high snow low

Cliff Thompson

Snow-depth measurements at two locations in Eagle County show that snow at lower elevations seems to be piling up better than at higher altitudes

But statewide, snow isn’t as deep as it is in an average year and the “drought” word is beginning to resurface.

At the Shrine Pass snow course at 10,600 feet – near Vail Pass – the Natural Resource Conservation Service measured 43 inches of snow, which is 84 percent of average. But the snow is drier than normal and contains only 76 percent of the average moisture.



But at McKenzie Gulch south of Eagle, at 8,500 feet, the snow depth was 29.3 inches or 121 percent of average. It’s also wetter than snow higher up and contains 7.1 inches of water, 125 percent of average.

The deepest snow measured atop Shrine Pass was 74.8 inches in 1996 and the least, 30 inches, in 1981.



At McKenzie Gulch the deepest snow, 40.1 inches was measured in 1993 and the least, 1.2 inches was measured in 1962.

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



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This winter has been a tale of two halves in Colorado. The southern half of the state has received heavier than normal snow and the northern half, less.

Snow provides 80 percent of the water available in Colorado. With the winter ticking down, the time remaining for snow to pile up and fill area streams this spring is dwindling. Eagle County’s snowpack is 80 percent of normal and recent storms have not caused a boost.

In the northern half of the state, the snowpack is at 80 percent or less of average, which means there’s even less snow than last year at this time.

Water supply experts are saying the Colorado River and North and South Platte rivers will see below average runoff, which means there will be water shortages in those regions. The snow in the Colorado River basin will produce is just 83 percent of the water it produces normally. In the South Platte River drainage, that number drops to 69 percent of average and the North Platte, 81 percent.

“Not only were those basins in better shape last year, but they then benefited the most from the late-March blizzard which really helped to improve water supplies,” said Allen Green of the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s snow survey office. “Without a similar wet spring this year, these basins can expect a return to significant shortages this summer.”

That blizzard a year ago boosted the snowpack along the Front Range and elsewhere up to average for the year.

More critical is water stored in reservoirs that help stretch supplies in dry summer months. Those levels are only at 78 percent of average statewide. Many reservoirs are still recovering from 2002 drought, which was the worst in more than 300 years.

Snow in the southwestern mountains ranges from 106 percent of average in the Rio Grand Drainage to 105 percent in the Dolores River drainage.

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


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