Aspen’s snowpack dips below average |

Aspen’s snowpack dips below average

Scott CondonAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN Aspen’s snowpack is disappearing faster than swag at the X Games.Dry weather and warm temperatures sent the snowpack level March 10 below the 30-year average for the first time all season. Since then, unseasonably warm temperatures have reduced the snowpack to 93 percent of average, according to the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service.The NRCS has scores of computerized weather stations scattered in Colorado’s mountains to measure precipitation and snowpack. One site is tucked along Lincoln Creek east of Aspen. It’s at an elevation of 10,600 feet.The snowpack at that site was 85 percent higher than average on Oct. 31, thanks to late-fall snowstorms. By Nov. 15, the snowpack had settled at 44 percent above the average established in the years between 1971 and 2000.By mid-December Aspen’s snowpack was 16 percent above average, and it hovered at about 7 percent higher in mid-January.Some snowstorms maintained the snowpack slightly above average throughout February and into March. But unseasonably warm weather finally brought an end to the above-average bounty.The snowpack throughout Colorado is disappearing at a time when it is typically builds, said Mike Gillespie of the NRCS snow survey branch.”This is definitely heading in the wrong direction, and it’s going to be difficult to recover from,” he said.Aspen isn’t the only area watching its snowpack melt away. The snowpack statewide is now 85 percent of average.State water managers like the snowpack to continue to build into April, hoping to see a steady runoff that fills reservoirs efficiently. While some of this early melt-off is getting captured and stored, a lot of water soaks into the ground or is lost through sublimation, Gillespie said.The warm weather is melting the snow at lower elevations and drying out the ground. When snow at higher elevations melts later in the year, less runoff will make it to reservoirs and rivers.”It’s not good to start this early by any means,” Gillespie said.The snowpack for the Roaring Fork basin as a whole is down to 85 percent of average. That includes the Crystal and Fryingpan valleys. The snowpack in those valleys never reached as high as the site east of Aspen this winter.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is