SUMMIT COUNTY - Summit County has endured its fair share of cold temperatures this winter, but the local snowpack has lagged below the long-term average for most of the season.
Snowpack in the Blue River Basin, home to Breckenridge and Silverthorne, registered 76 percent of average, according to the latest survey by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, conducted Jan. 1. Hoosier pass and Loveland Pass are at 87 percent and 68 percent of average, respectively.
Conservation Service officials measure snowpack via automated "SNOTEL" devices, which gauge the snow's water content. There are 108 SNOTEL sites throughout Colorado's high country.
Statewide, Colorado's snowpack measured 86 percent of average - 28 percent lower than last year at the same time. This is the lowest statewide Jan. 1 snowpack percentage since 2003. That year, the state's snowpack was 85 percent of average, according to state conservationist Allen Green.
"We're in an El Nino year this year, which is typically dry in mid-winter," said Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor with the Conservation Service. "There's hope we could see some relief during the later spring months."
On average, by Jan. 1, Colorado has only received about 40 percent of the maximum total seasonal snowpack.
Colorado's December snowfall this season was near average in most areas, but it paled in comparison to totals from the previous two Decembers. In 2008 and 2007, snowpack percentages climbed from well below average to well above average with just a few sizable storms. But comparable storms never came in December 2009.
Snowpack readings are below average in all of Colorado's major river basins. Percents of average range from a low of 74 percent in the Yampa and White River Basins to a high of 97 percent in the combined San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel River Basins.
"Given our current conditions, we need to receive about 110 percent of average snowfall from now until mid-April to reach our average maximum totals," Green said.
According to Gillespie, the state as a whole has about a 20 percent chance of being above average by then. Last winter, Colorado's statewide maximum total snowpack was 109 percent of average.
Almost 80 percent of the state's surface water supplies originate from melting winter snowpack. Based on current conditions, the Conservation Service predicts runoff to be slightly below average in Colorado's rivers and streams.
Current reservoir storage throughout the state is slightly above average, with the exception of southwestern Colorado, where water storage levels are below normal volumes.
Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-4630 or firstname.lastname@example.org.