Basin snowpack to near normal after storms
Spring snowstorms in the central and northern Rocky Mountains this week boosted the snowpack in the Colorado River Basin to 97 percent of normal, according to the latest snow survey readings for the basin.
Within the Roaring Fork River watershed alone, the snowpack increased to 99 percent of normal during the past few days, according to the Roaring Fork Conservancy’s weekly snowpack and streamflow report issued on Thursday.
That’s another significant increase in the area snowpack just since Monday, when the Natural Resources Conservation Service said the Colorado Basin snowpack stood at 85 percent of normal.
“We had a good drink of water, and that definitely improves conditions heading into the middle of spring,” said Joe Ramey, forecaster and climate specialist for the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
“It doesn’t get us fully out of drought conditions, though,” he said. “We’re still in severe to extreme drought throughout northwest Colorado, and the forecast continues to be for a warmer and drier period from May through July.”
A series of wet storm systems that moved through western Colorado starting last weekend and continuing into Thursday dumped the equivalent of more than 2 inches of water in the upper Fryingpan and Roaring Fork basins, according to the Roaring Fork Conservancy report.
Ahead of the latest storm systems, though, parts of the watershed were blanketed with dust that was carried in by high winds. That will likely lead to a faster runoff once the temperatures warm, the report indicated.
“Cold temperatures are delaying runoff, causing stream flows to be well below average for this time of year,” according to the report.
Drought conditions for the local watershed also improved from extreme to severe with the latest round of storms.
Statewide, the snowpack increased from 74 percent at the beginning of April to 86 percent of normal as of Thursday, said Magdalena Hultstrand, assistant snow survey supervisor for the NRCS.
Besides the Colorado Basin, snowpack in two other river basins were boosted to more than 90 percent, including the Yampa and White river basin at 90 percent and the North Platte Basin at 98 percent of normal.
The southwestern part of the state did not benefit from the recent storm systems, however, Hultstrand said. Snowpack in the Rio Grande River Basin remained at just 66 percent of normal as of Thursday, she said.
Historical snowpack comparisons switched to a new normal two year ago, lowering the bar for snowpack averages. The previous 30-year period of time used for comparison was 1971 through 2000. That shifted to the period from 1981-2010 for current comparisons, Hultstrand explained.
“For most areas of Colorado, that means the normal is now lower than it used to be,” she said.
That’s because the 2000s were a drier decade on average than the 1970s, she said.
A pair of weaker storm systems are expected to move through western Colorado this weekend and into Monday, Ramey said.
“The mountains will see some more snow, but the forecast is for drier and warmer weather starting next week,” he said.
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