Another storm heading into Colorado; snowpack is low |

Another storm heading into Colorado; snowpack is low

AP PhotoWhiteout driving conditions hamper drivers visibility as a winter snow storm moves through Vail Pass Thursday. The National Weather Service said a foot of snow or more could fall in the central and southwest Colorado mountains as the eastbound storm moved across the area on Friday. Gusty winds could make driving hazardous, forecasters said.

The second storm in a week brought snow to parts of the Colorado high country on Thursday, but critical mountain snowpack that provides most of the state’s water was well below average. Deputy state water engineer Jack Byers said it’s still not clear whether Colorado’s long, severe drought is over. “We are cautiously optimistic,” he said. “The weather patterns appear to be setting up favorably.”Highways remained open Thursday but chains were required on commercial vehicles over most high mountain passes. Up to 20 inches of snow was forecast in the southwestern mountains by Friday night, and much of western Colorado was under a winter storm watch.

It would be the second winter storm to cross Colorado in a week, but the statewide snowpack was only 84 percent of the 30 year average Thursday.At this time last year, it was 103 percent, according to the federal Natural Resources and Conservation Service.But Byers said that on average, only 30 percent of an entire year’s snow falls in the last three months of the calendar year.The southwestern part of the state, which was hit hardest by the severe Colorado drought that began in 2000, is in the worst shape again this year. Snowpack in the Upper Rio Grande basin was 23 percent of average Thursday. In the San Miguel-Dolores-Animas-San Juan basin, it was 28 percent.

The Durango ski area delayed its opening from Thanksgiving to Dec. 10 because of scant snow.Hunting has also been affected. The unseasonably mild weather has allowed game animals to remain at higher elevations and in timbered areas in southwest Colorado, reducing the number of deer and elk killed by hunters, said Joe Lewandowski of the Division of Wildlife.”There are very big numbers of deer and elk around here this year,” he said. “I honestly think that the lower number of harvested game is because of” the weather conditions, he told The Durango Herald.

The Upper Colorado River basin, where some of the nation’s busiest ski resorts are located, has the deepest snow in the state, 123 percent of average.The South Platte basin, which delivers water to the densely populated Front Range, is second at 118 percent.State officials estimate the drought has caused $1.1 billion in losses to agriculture, tourism and recreation. The 2002 water year, from Oct. 1, 2001, to Sept. 30, 2002, was the driest on record. March and April, normally the wettest months, were much dryer than average that year, Byers said.”In Colorado we are semiarid and we are never far from drought when there is potential for low snowpack,” he said.

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