Snowpack dropping during warm spring |

Snowpack dropping during warm spring

Melissa Trujillo
Continuing warm temperatures are eroding the Colorado Rocky Mountain snowpack as seen here, Monday, June 5, 2006, near Avon, Colo. Warm and dry weather caused Colorado's snowpack to further drop in May, ending any hope of an above-average water runoff this summer after what appeared to be a promising winter, federal officials said Monday. (AP Photo/Peter M. Fredin)

DENVER (AP) – The warm, dry spring caused Colorado’s snowpack to further drop in May, dampening hopes of an above-average water runoff this summer in some parts of the state after what appeared to be a promising winter, federal officials said.”Earlier on this season, there was a lot of optimism that perhaps the worst of the drought had passed,” said Mike Gillespie, the snow survey supervisor with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “This just showed how quickly the state can turn around from optimism to a much bleaker picture.”

The statewide snowpack dropped from 65 percent of its 30-year average on May 1 to 26 percent on Thursday, the Natural Resources Conservation Service said. On April 1 – before the warm, dry spring caused rapid melting – the snowpack was measured at 94 percent of average.Without relief from the heat or some precipitation, the averages have continued to drop: By Monday, the statewide average had fallen to 19 percent. Eight major Colorado river systems also provide water to 10 western states.The fire danger across most of Colorado was listed as moderate or high Monday, with part of the northwest listed as very high.Optimism for an above-average runoff started when the state’s snowpack maxed out at 94 percent of average this winter, with many of the basins above 100 percent.

“With this warm and dry weather, those runoff forecasts have been adjusted down accordingly,” Gillespie said.He said the situation was most pronounced in the northern mountains and the Front Range, which depend on spring moisture more than the southern part of the state. The South Platte Basin, which serves the Front Range, was at 16 percent of average Thursday.About 400 wells in the basin were shut down last month when the state engineer issued a forecast anticipating lower-than-average flows in the river, threatening thousands of acres of summer crops.Overall, though, southwestern Colorado had the lowest snowpack averages after a dry winter, with the snowpack just 11 percent of average in the Rio Grande Basin and 6 percent in the San Juan, Animas and Dolores basin.

A strong monsoon season could reduce municipal and agricultural water demands, Gillespie said. But the state really needs above-average snowfall in winter, a mild, moist spring and a summer that doesn’t put too much demand on the water supply before the state can fully climb out of the recent drought.”We’ve seen conditions improve, but only temporarily,” he said. “We’ve not totally emerged from what started back in 2001.”Meanwhile, reservoir storage across most of Colorado was at 99 percent of average, which the agency partly attributed to storage of the early snowmelt. Officials do expect that number to reduce as water demand rises this summer.Vail, Colorado

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