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Snowpack at best level in 10 years

The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” As snow keeps piling up in Colorado’s mountains, the state’s snowpack is building to its biggest level in more than a decade.

The snowpack, the source of 80 percent of the state’s water supply, is huge in southern Colorado, which was hit hard by the recent drought. The area’s snowpack ranges from 165 percent to 170 percent of average.

“These are the best conditions we have seen around the state since 1997,” said Mike Gillespie, snow-survey supervisor with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service. “And we’ve had some good years in between that time.”

Statewide, the snowpack is 132 percent of average. The levels are lower in northern Colorado and along the Front Range, running from 109 percent in the Yampa and White river basins 101 percent in the South Platte River basin. The snowpack percentage is measured against a 30-year average. Eight major Colorado river systems provide water to 10 western states.

A dry November had ski resorts and water managers worried and some forecasters predicting a dry winter. Since then, an onslaught of storms has dumped several feet of snow in western Colorado, setting off avalanches and prompting emergency feeding for big game in the Gunnison Basin. Seven people have died or are presumed dead this winter after hiking, skiing and snowmobiling in Colorado’s backcountry.

March typically is one of the state’s biggest months for precipitation.

“If March is really dry, we could fall behind; we just won’t fall behind like we did in 2002,” said Klaus Wolter, a forecaster with the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration in Boulder. “But I’m not certain that March is going to be that dry.”

Wolter does believe the next couple weeks will be dry. If the storms return after that, the next big worry will be flooding, he added.

Aspen Mountain and Aspen Highlands received 4 inches of new snow over the past 24 hours, according to the Aspen Skiing Co.’s Thursday morning report. Snowmass and Buttermilk picked up 3 inches.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center report for the Aspen zone on Thursday, Feb. 7:

The avalanche danger is considerable on all aspects and elevations. Natural avalanches are possible and human-triggered ones probable on all slopes 30 degrees and steeper. Areas of higher avalanche danger are possible in the SW corner of the Aspen zone where snow totals are over two feet since Sunday. Keep an eye out for these variable conditions that can change from one valley to the next. The snowpack is tender and will require a cautious approach to backcountry travel at this time.


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