Warm, dry weather shrinks snowpack | AspenTimes.com

Warm, dry weather shrinks snowpack

Bob BerwynSummit County correspondent

SUMMIT COUNTY – After a gangbuster start to the winter, snowfall tapered off dramatically in February, and warm temperatures caused the snowpack to shrink during the last few days of the month. But water officials still predict above-average runoff in the spring.At the five automated Snotel measuring sites in Summit County, the snowpack on Wednesday averaged 139 percent of normal. The reading signifies a two-month downward trend. It was 168 percent of normal on Jan. 1 and 158 percent on Feb. 1, according to Scott Hummer, Blue River water commissioner for the state engineer’s office.”It still looks like Dillon Reservoir and Green Mountain Reservoir will fill,” Hummer said, adding that the Upper Colorado Basin is still in good shape as far as overall snowpack compared with the rest of the state’s river basins.Hummer said the weather outlooks circulating among water watchers indicate that a weak La Nia weather pattern, with cooler-than-average sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific, could lead to above-average temperatures and below-normal precipitation in the coming months. That means Colorado’s beefy snowpack might not hold up through the spring, Hummer said, though he expressed hopes that this year won’t be a replay of March 2001, when a long streak of warm, dry weather led to a spring and summer drought.As of Wednesday, Hummer said, streamflows were ranging near average in the Blue River Basin. Warm temperatures melted some snow at lower elevations, but the big meltdown won’t come until temperatures at higher elevations start to stay near or above freezing during the night, presumably in late May. While some river gauges are still ice-affected, Hummer said a reading on the Blue River between Frisco and Breckenridge showed 15.4 cubic feet per second Thursday morning, compared with an average flow of about 11 cfs for that date.Near Dillon Reservoir, the meltdown was evident in snowpack figures tallied by Denver Water officials in their monthly report to the National Weather Service. Between Feb. 24 and Feb. 28, the snowpack depth shrank from 19 inches to 10 inches.That shrinkage can be attributed to warm temperatures during the last few days of February, with the thermometer racing all the way up to the monthly high of 49 degrees on Feb. 28.The coldest day was Feb. 11, at 11 degrees. The low for the month, minus 22 degrees, came in that same 24-hour period.Monthly highs averaged 30.4 degrees, a few degrees below the long-term average for the month of 34.1 degrees.Only 7.5 inches of snow fell at the Dillon site in February, compared with the long-term average of 18.9 inches, based on records dating to 1909. March is the snowiest month of the year at the Dillon site, with an average of 22.5 inches of snow.But across the county, at Copper Mountain, snowfall was close to average. The ski resort reported 49 inches of snow during the month, compared with the historic average of 44.39 inches. Copper is just a finger-length away from passing the magical 300-inch mark, at 297 inches for the season.

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