April snowpack: ‘Not as bad as last year’
Ryan Summerlin April 10, 2013
Snow surveyors are a bit more optimistic than they were last month on the area’s snowpack levels, with Middle Park and the upper Colorado River Basin at 79 percent of average.
“It’s not as bad as last year,” said surveyor Mark Volt of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Kremmling Field Office.
Last month, snowpack levels were lower than 2012 levels, but precipitation has helped. Middle park is now sitting above the 58 percent mark of April 1, 2012, and slightly better off than 62 percent in the drought year of 2002.
Snowpack in the mountains above Middle Park now ranges from 48-96 percent of the 30-year average, according to surveyors.
Snow surveyors glean data from stations throughout the high mountains, such as Gore Pass, Jones Pass, and Willow Creek.
Yet in spite of a somewhat improved outlook on water conditions, irrigators, towns, river runners and other water users can expect lower than normal river levels this summer, according to Volt.
Reservoir storage remains lower than last year. “It is almost impossible to catch up on snowpack at this late a date,” Volt said. “From this point on, spring runoff will be highly dependent on melting conditions (i.e., temperature and wind), as well as spring snow accumulation and rainfall. We can only hope for a rainy summer.”
Snow density is averaging 27 percent, which means that for a foot of snow there are 3.2 inches of water.
Most of the snow courses around Middle Park have been read since the 1940s. Snow course readings are taken at the end of each month, beginning in January and continuing through April. March is historically the snowiest month, and the April 1 readings are the most critical for predicting runoff and summer water supplies, as most of our high country snowpack peaks around that time. Manual snow courses will be read for the final time this year at the end of April.
For further information, including real-time snow and precipitation data for SNOTEL (automated Snow Telemetry) sites, visit www.co.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/index.html.