Despite ups and downs, Aspen backcountry logged average precipitation
Precipitation totals around the Roaring Fork Basin varied over the 2016 water year, which started Oct. 1, 2015.
Independence Pass received 29.5 inches or 95% of average
Ivanhoe in the Fryingpan Valley received 35 inches or 99% of average
North Lost Trail near Marble received 28.3 inches or 80% of average
The backcountry surrounding Aspen received slightly less than average precipitation during a rollercoaster of a 2016 water year, according to the federal agency that measures rain and snow at remote sites.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service reported that its automated weather station near the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River east of Aspen received 29.5 inches of precipitation from Oct. 1, 2015, through Sept. 30. That is about 95 percent of the average of 31.2 inches. The precipitation totals include the snow-water equivalent in the snow that fell.
The conservation service and water managers start water year measurement in October because any snowfall for that month generally becomes the next spring’s snowmelt.
“It was an interesting year with a lot of ups and downs,” said Karl Wetlaufer, assistant Snow Survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver.
The snowpack was normal for the central mountains in Colorado last winter, he noted. In the Aspen area, winter started with a bang with above average snowfall in October, December and January. Then conditions dried out before the spigot got turned on again in April and into May. June and July were below normal for rainfall, but precipitation picked up again in August.
“It was kind of a story of major precipitation and substantial dryness,”Wetlaufer said. “It was really pronounced in the southwest part of the state.”
Closer to home, automated weather sites in the Fryingpan Valley showed precipitation levels close to normal while the sites in the Crystal Valley were generally significantly below average.
The Ivanhoe site in the Fryingpan received 35 inches of moisture, 99 percent of average.
The Kiln site logged 24.1 inches of 96 percent of average while Nast received 28.3 inches, or 90 percent of average, according to the conservation service’s website.
Despite a great backcountry skiing season in Marble, overall precipitation in the area was down significantly since Oct. 1, 2015. North Lost Trail received 28.3 inches of precipitation, just 80 percent of the average of 35.2 inches.
Schofield Pass reaped 38.1 inches, but that was just 78 percent of the average of 49.1 inches.
The Aspen Water Plant, which tracks daily weather data, recorded 16.68 inches of precipitation from January through August compared with an average of 14.95 inches.
For the year, starting in October 2015, the water plan has logged 23.07 inches of precipitation or about 11 percent above the average of 20.73 inches.
Wetlaufer said some high elevation weather stations have picked up snow already this year, but it’s too soon to say if that snow will stick around or melt before winter really gets going, he said.
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Mountain Rescue Aspen is expanding its education efforts to try to keep people safe in the backcountry during winters and summers. It will host a workshop on Dec. 8 titled, “How to Plan a Backcountry Tour.”