Blizzard gives Aspen’s snowpack a big boost
March 11, 2002
It’s amazing what 20 inches of snow will do for an anemic snowpack.
While the level of snow in the Roaring Fork River basin is still way below average for this time of year, it improved significantly after Friday’s blizzard.
On a basinwide average, the snowpack improved from just 64 percent of normal before the storm to 71 percent after the big dump, according to statistics from the National Resources Conservation Service.
Pockets of the basin have improved even more significantly.
The NRCS has seven computerized snow measuring stations in the Roaring Fork River basin. Snow is measured daily in the Roaring Fork, Crystal and Fryingpan drainages.
A measuring station at the 10,600-foot level of Independence Pass shows that the snowpack there shot up from just 75 percent of normal on Thursday, March 7, to 82 percent of normal on Saturday, March 9.
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That reflects the storm that moved in Thursday night and raged throughout most of Friday. The Aspen Skiing Co. reported that Aspen Mountain received 20 inches of snow from the storm.
The latest storm improved the snowpack on Schoefield Pass from 70 percent to 79 percent.
The improvement at the North Lost Trail site – between Schoefield and McClure passes – was even greater. Snowpack went from just 48 percent of normal on Thursday to 60 percent Saturday.
The snow depth at McClure Pass shot up from 51 percent to 56 percent.
In the Fryingpan drainage, the changes from the latest storm weren’t as dramatic. The snowpack at the Kiln site went from 70 percent of average to 73 percent.
Snowpack data is more than interesting trivia. Nearly 80 percent of the state’s surface water supplies originate from the melting winter snowpack, according to the NRCS.
The snowpack helps determine how much water is available the following summer for everything from irrigating ranch fields and watering suburban lawns to maintaining minimum streamflows.
Low reservoir levels could affect boating. Low stream levels could affect fish hatcheries on the gold-medal trout waters of the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers.
Jeanne Beaudry, executive director of the Roaring Fork Conservancy, noted that the flow on the Fryingpan is already the lowest it has been in 10 to 12 years. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is storing as much water as it can in Ruedi Reservoir, which is part of the water diversion network for Colorado’s Front Range.
Low stream flows could also affect the quality of whitewater rafting – one of the biggest tourism draws in the summer.
NRCS officials don’t believe snowpack deficits in Colorado can be offset through the remainder of the winter, even though March and April are typically the state’s snowiest months. However, there is a chance to narrow the gap – or watch it grow even greater.
The seasonal maximum snowpack is typically attained around April 1.
“We can still hold out for a cold, and very wet spring, which could extend the high country snowpack accumulation season into perhaps even May, as our last hope,” said Allen Green, state conservationist with the NRCS.
Water concerns are nothing new in Colorado lately. This is the fifth consecutive March with a below-average statewide snowpack.