State’s snowpack improves, but more moisture needed by summer |

State’s snowpack improves, but more moisture needed by summer

The winter that started with so much promise in October finally delivered with above-average snowfall again in February.

Last month’s storms brought increases to the snowpack percentages in all of the state’s major river basins, according to the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service. The statewide snowpack average improved from 71 percent of average on Feb. 1 to 83 percent of average on March 1.

Closer to Aspen, the snowpack totals were even better. The Colorado River basin’s snowpack was 93 percent of average and 137 percent higher than last year at this time.

The Roaring Fork River basin’s snowpack nudged up to 84 percent of average overall. On Independence Pass it was 96 percent of average, according to the NRCS.

While the snowpack improvements help to ease drought concerns, NRCS state conservationist Allen Green warned that Colorado will most likely see significant water shortages this summer.

“In order to reach an average snowpack by the critical April 1 date, we’ll need almost 150 percent of normal snowfall during March,” he said. “Our chances of receiving that amount of statewide snowfall are only 22 percent.”

Above-average snow fell in October, building expectations for the ski season. Snowfall was below average in November, December and January and half of February remained dry. Then winter hit with a fury.

It’s dumped more than 3 feet at Snowmass Ski Area since Feb. 21. February ended up with above-average snowfall statewide, and March is starting out that way.

The South Platte and Arkansas river basins benefited the most out of these storms, with increases of 16 and 15 percent of average, respectively.

“Just a month ago the South Platte Basin’s snowpack was only 63 percent of average, and was one of the driest basins in the state. Now we’re seeing some relief for some of those water users,” said Green.

At this point, the NRCS and National Weather Service are still forecasting below-average runoff in streams and rivers this summer. Last year’s drought left the state’s soils in such a dry condition that some of the water in the snowpack will simply soak into the ground and never reach the streams.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is]

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