Warm days depleting Colorado snowpack | VailDaily.com

Warm days depleting Colorado snowpack

Jerd Smith
Rocky Mountain News
Vail, CO Colorado

DENVER, Colorado ” Colorado’s snowpack – a critical indicator of annual water supplies – has weakened in recent weeks, dropping from 120 percent of average Jan. 1 to 108 percent of average this week, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“We have hit a January thaw,” said Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor for the NRCS.

The good news, he said, is that projections call for high country snowpacks to hold fairly steady through the winter and spring, meaning that 2009 should deliver adequate water to the state’s reservoirs.

“Overall, it should not be too bad a year,” Gillespie said.

His comments came at a meeting of the Governor’s Water Availability Task Force in Denver.

But the Front Range, home to millions of people and the state’s largest farm economy, is projected to stay dry.

Colorado’s water arrives each year in the form of high country snow.

And most of the state’s eight major river basins are expected to receive adequate moisture by April 1.

But the South Platte Basin, which serves much of the central and northern Front Range is dry now, with snowpack measuring just 94 percent of average. It may suffer more if the remaining winter and spring months are warm and dry, as some forecasts suggest.

“The mountains are looking good,” said state Climatologist Nolan Doesken. “But the Front Range wildland interface is really pretty dry.”

That’s one reason for the grass fires that have dogged Boulder and Larimer counties during the past two weeks.

Alhough most of the state’s reservoirs are projected to fill this year, a warm spring will parch home owners’ lawns and farm fields.

Forecasters still hope that one or two major snowstorms will help the Front Range, but Doesken said they’ve become increasingly rare.

“We lived by wet springs in the 1980s and 1990s,” he said. “But since then, they’ve become almost nonexistent.”

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