Vail Valley annual snowpack above normal, so far |

Vail Valley annual snowpack above normal, so far

Dry start to water year doesn’t dent statewide snowpack

Anthony Martinez finds the goods in an aspen field on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2020 in Beaver Creek.
Chris Dillmann |

This year’s snowpack looks a lot like last year’s, which is pretty good so far, according to the latest monthly report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

In the Colorado River Basin — Eagle County and the surrounding region —  the snowpack is 110% of normal.

Statewide, snowpacks range between 104% and 129% of normal, according to NRCS data. The statewide snowpack is 119% of normal.

Generally, Colorado’s snowpack keeps piling up until April. We’re already halfway there for an above-normal snowpack season.

“Overall things are off to a good start with respect to prospective water supply with ample reservoir storage and above-normal snowpack,” the monthly report states.

Don’t break out the water cannons just yet, though.

“There are still several months until the primary snowmelt runoff season and a lot can change. It is always worth keeping an eye on current conditions,” the report states.

Precipitation down, snowpack up

The water year begins in October, so things started dry and got wetter as winter set in. That means the water year’s actual precipitation is a little low, but winter storms are piling up the snowpack, according to the data.

“Increased accumulation as snow in December compared to the drier previous months has led to above-normal snowpack and below normal water year precipitation,” said Karl Wetlaufer, a hydrologist with the NRCS.

Between Oct. 1, 2019, and January 1, 2020, precipitation was 92 percent of normal, while November and December storms pushed the snowpack to 119 percent, Wetlaufer said.

The annual snowpack generally keeps piling up until April, when the annual runoff begins.
Natural Resources Conservation Service

Similar to the 2019 water year, which started in Oct. 2018, precipitation patterns and month-to-month snow accumulations have varied widely.

The 2020 water year started in October 2019 amid a late summer dry spell in southern Colorado. The northern basins — Eagle County and the surrounding region — were blessed with above-normal precipitation beginning in October and running through December with several snowstorms.

That means in our region, streamflows are also healthy so far this winter, with water supplies at or near average. Weather and precipitation patterns vary from region to region across Colorado, the NRCS report states.

In the Arkansas Basin, the water supply is forecast at 104% of normal. On the low end, the Gunnison and combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan Basins are facing a water supply forecast at 88% of normal.

“While it is common to see notable geographic trends in forecasts across the state, current water supply forecasts are generally for near to slightly below average volumes in all major basins of Colorado,” Wetlaufer said.

Across Colorado, 90% of the state’s water supply is forecast to hit between 85% and 115% percent of their average volumes, Wetlaufer said. Statewide reservoir storage is 106% of average, Wetlaufer said.

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