State snowpack 72 percent of average; Pitkin County in ‘extreme’ drought |

State snowpack 72 percent of average; Pitkin County in ‘extreme’ drought

ASPEN – Colorado’s snowpack as of Feb. 1 dropped to 72 percent of normal and 90 percent of last year’s level, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a federal agency that tracks the levels.

Conditions were even worse in the Roaring Fork Valley. As of Wednesday, the snowpack at the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River east of Aspen was at 50 percent of average, the conservation service reported. For the Roaring Fork River basin as a whole, which includes the Fryingpan and Crystal river drainages, the snowpack is 68 percent of average.

The highest snowpack within the Roaring Fork drainage is at McClure Pass and North Lost Trail outside of Marble, according to the conservation service. The snowpack at McClure Pass is 83 percent of average, while it is 80 percent at North Lost Trail.

This winter is starting to make last winter look good, at least at the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River. The snowpack east of Aspen on Wednesday was only 71 percent of the level on the same date last year.

The Winter X Games weren’t the only thing that went extreme in Aspen in January. The U.S. Drought Monitor changed the status for all of Pitkin County from “severe” drought to “extreme.” The change in the assessment was made mid-month, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor website. The drought monitor updates conditions each Thursday. Eagle and Garfield counties were also in “extreme” drought as of the last assessment on Jan. 29.

Two of the traditionally snowiest months for Colorado are still to come, but time is running out. Colorado’s mountains usually accumulate about 60 percent of their snowpack by Feb. 1, Mage Hultstrand, assistant snow-survey supervisor for the conservation service, said Wednesday. Another 20 percent of the snowpack usually accumulates in February and 20 percent in March.

The below-average snowpack produces a “bleak” water-supply outlook, the conservation service said.

“Current streamflow forecasts continue to point towards well below normal runoff volumes in all the major river basins in Colorado,” according to the agency.

Reservoir storage across the state is below average, the agency noted. Ruedi Reservoir was 61 percent full Wednesday, and the Fryingpan Valley has weak snowpack levels.

“Unless Colorado sees weather patterns that bring above-average snowfall and precipitation to the state over these next few months, it is not likely that there will be much relief from the current drought conditions,” the conservation service concluded.

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