Local snowpack close to average
February’s snowfall leveled off at just below normal amounts after January’s generous storms brought Colorado’s snowpack close to average.
Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor for the U.S. government’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, said February snowfall in the Colorado River basin was sufficient to keep the snowpack at 89 percent of average. This winter’s snowfall is nearly on pace with last winter’s, with the March 1 snowpack at 95 percent of last year’s.
Figures kept by the NRCS showed the Feb. 1 snowpack in the Colorado River basin, which includes the Roaring Fork Valley, was also at 89 percent of normal, up from a paltry 65 percent of average on Jan. 1. Colorado basin snowpack was at 74 percent of average on Dec. 1.
Jeanne Mackowski of the Aspen Skiing Co. said while figures for February snowfall on the four Skico mountains are not available yet, estimates were right around average for the month. Snowfall averages are based on figures the Skico has kept since the 1980-81 season. All four mountains average around 50 inches in February.
Snowpack figures translate into runoff potential, watched closely by such diverse parties as ranchers and rafters. While snowfall has been slightly below average, winter runoff is actually above average in many drainages. For example, while snowpack remained below average in the Colorado River basin at the end of January, figures provided by the Colorado Division of Water Resources showed the Colorado River with an above average winter flow. At the gaging station at Dotsero, the Colorado River averaged 1,065 cubic feet per second, noticeably above the long-term average of 968 cfs.
The increased flow may result from melting of the snowpack at lower elevations, Gillespie speculated. “I would say that’s a result of the higher-than-normal temperatures we’ve been seeing,” he said.
Based on the snowpack on Feb. 1, the NRCS forecasted the runoff volume in the Roaring Fork River at 565,000 acre feet, 84 percent of average, for the April-through-July period. The runoff forecast for the Colorado River at Dotsero was 1,270,000 acre feet, 93 percent of normal.
Runoff forecast figures based on the March 1 snowpack are not yet available.
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