Runoff season is approaching and Summit County is ready for a big wave.
According to the National Resource Conservation Service, a division of the USDA, snowpack in Summit County has been above average all winter, especially earlier in the season.
“You’ve had a great snow year,” said Nolan Doesken, the state climatologist at Colorado State University, “and it doesn’t take a crazy scientist to tell you that.”
The Summit Ranch measurement site recorded 30 percent above the 30-year median Friday. The Fremont Pass, Hoosier Pass and Grizzly Peak sites recorded between 126 and 139 percent of that median Friday.
“February was huge, March was plentiful and April so far has had just a storm or two,” he said, “but there’s another one coming for the weekend.”
The sites at lower altitudes, like the Copper Mountain site, have already started showing some snow melt, he said. The county is almost assured an excellent run-off season with full reservoirs.
Notwithstanding dry weather in the spring, the county should avoid drought conditions through the summer, said Troy Wineland, Summit’s water commissioner.
That bodes well for agriculture, wildfire protection and outdoor recreation that depends on rivers and streams flowing at certain levels.
And snowpack has treated other parts of the state well. The South Platte Basin has recorded the most above-average snowpack, he said, which means the East Slope should take less water from across the Continental Divide, leaving more for the mountain region.
According to their media coordinators, area ski resorts benefited from the above-average snowpack.
The settled base at Breckenridge Ski Resort is about 10 inches above normal for this time of year, said spokeswoman Kristen Petitt Stewart, and snowfall for the season so far is about 70 inches above average.
At Arapahoe Basin Ski Area, spokeswoman Adrienne Saia Isaac said, “year-to-date snowfall is just over 360 inches, and any season with that much snow is going to bode well for our business.”
At Pioneer Sports, a ski and snowboard rental shop in Frisco, marketing coordinator Jonathan Enns said having a good snow season, especially in January and February, has helped the business. But when the store transitions to bike rentals for the summer, he said, a long-lasting snowpack could push back its operation.
As winter winds down, spring and summer rafting and fishing prospects look good.
The Blue River water levels were too low for rafting for the last two years, said Campy Campton, co-owner of Kodi Rafting in Frisco, who has been rafting locally for almost 30 years.
In 2013, he said, the weather was shaping up to repeat the drought conditions of 2012.
“It was little stressful going into April,” he said, “but Mother Nature came through and saved us.”
His company normally starts tours May 1 but could start guiding rafters down river as early as next week. Campton said he has already made one trip down the Blue and two down the Arkansas River.
“It’s going to be an amazing season,” he said. “It’s gonna be a lot of fun.”
CAUSE for celebration
“Summit County is usually good at spreading run-off over long periods of time,” Doesken said. “Your high altitudes work in your favor, and the fact that the basin drains to the north works in your favor.”
This year’s above-average snowpack was likely caused by climate patterns around the country. With the “bone-chilling relentless cold” in the Northern Plains and Great Lakes region and the warm dry winter in California and the Pacific Northwest, Doesken said, Colorado was “sort of in a squeeze zone between the two.”
Summit County especially was hit with jet stream air blowing from the northwest, “popping it right up the Blue River Valley” and concentrating snow in an ideal and consistent way.
“Does that mean anything for the future?” he asked. “No. That’s just how it happened this year.”
Next year will be different.