Snowpack level improves with recent snows

Scott Condon

The latest flurries of activity have boosted the Aspen area’s snowpack to near normal but an expert says that’s not enough to declare the drought over.

The snowpack at the 10,500-foot level of Independence Pass was 98 percent of average as of noon Thursday, according to the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service. That’s up from 93 percent on Feb. 17.

Since the latest round of snowstorms started last Friday, 18 inches have fallen on Aspen Mountain; 20 inches on Aspen Highlands; and 22 inches at Snowmass as of Thursday morning. Not a bad week’s work.

That consistent snowfall has boosted the average snowpack throughout the Roaring Fork River basin to 86 percent. The Fryingpan River drainage, like Independence Pass, is close to normal. Snowpack in the Crystal River drainage lags further behind, according to snow survey data.

“It’s good to see the numbers get back up there,” said Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “But we’re not out of the woods yet.

“We’ve been saying all along that we need well-above-average [snowpack] to get out of the drought.”

Conditions would have to stay stormy throughout the entire month of March to really offset the drought, said Gillespie. For example, this last week added 0.3 inches of snow water equivalent on average statewide. Another week exactly like that would raise the statewide snowpack to average, he said.

Two weeks of weather like we’ve had the last week would boost the snowpack statewide to 105 percent of average. Three weeks would boost it to 113 percent.

Seven weeks of consistent snowfall would boost the snowpack to 150 percent of average and “put us in position where we would refill our reservoirs,” Gillespie said.

Obviously, the odds of that happening are slim, he said.

Ruedi Reservoir is only 45 percent full. It has a capacity of 102,373 acre feet. As of Thursday it held 46,390 acre feet.

Higher-than-average snowpack is needed not only to refill depleted reservoirs, but to offset dry ground conditions. Gillespie said it’s estimated that up to 15 percent of the runoff will be absorbed by dry soil before it makes it to streams and rivers.

At a minimum, the state needs a snowpack of 115 percent of average to experience normal runoff, Gillespie said.