Snowpack moisture lowest on record
May 4, 2012
Less than a week after the last lifts were powered down, the slopes of Breckenridge Ski Resort’s Peak 7 are turning brown.
The snowpack, which hit a season high in mid-March that was still well below average, is evaporating quickly across the county.
The snow that hasn’t melted is the driest experts have ever seen.
The snow-water equivalent – a measurement of the moisture contained in the snowpack in inches of water – fell to 29 percent of average in the Blue River Basin on May 1 – the lowest on the 45-year record.
The Colorado River Basin also hit a record low earlier this week, with a snow-water equivalent falling to 21 percent of average. The basin’s total snowpack was also at 21 percent of average.
“Statewide snowpack looks to have peaked around March 12, a month ahead of the average peak date and began melting in late March at rates typically not observed until May,” National Resources Conservation Service state conservationist Phyllis Ann Philipps stated in a recent release.
Now, with the snowpack nearly gone and little water residing in what’s left, stream-flow forecasts are falling short as well.
At the end of April, local agency officials gathered for an annual meeting that is normally used to plan for high rivers and potential flooding.
The discussions this year were different.
“We jokingly called it the high water meeting,” Lake Dillon Fire-Rescue spokesman Steve Lipsher said. “This year it was really more the no water meeting.”
Stream flows on the Blue River near Dillon Reservoir will likely only reach 41 percent of normal between May and July, National Weather Service water forecasters say.
“The unseasonably warm temperatures we’ve had (are) bringing the runoff off pretty early,” NWS hydrologist Treste Huse said.
Though there is a slight chance of precipitation in the forecast Sunday and into the early part of next week, May is showing a “tilt” toward dryer conditions in the north-central mountains, Huse said. After that, the chances of precipitation are about 50-50, according to current forecasts.
But while weather patterns and water levels may be reminiscent of 2002, a year of severe drought for Colorado, the state’s reservoir levels are in good shape.
Dillon Reservoir was 94 percent full as of April 30, compared with a historic median of only 85 percent, according to data provided by Denver Water.
The utility’s total available system was 88 percent full on the same day last week, above a historic median of 79 percent.
“That’s due to customers’ good conservation and some decent weather years,” Denver Water spokeswoman Stacy Chesney said. “But we are asking our customers to cut back to help preserve water in the systems because we don’t know what the weather will bring.”