Blue River basin snowpack remains above average but not as hefty as last year |

Blue River basin snowpack remains above average but not as hefty as last year

The Blue River flows into Dillon Reservoir with Peak 1 of the Tenmile Range in the background on April 27. The Blue River basin’s snowpack is at 120%, and with warmer weather coming to Summit County, the reservoir will begin to fill.
Jason Connolly /

DILLON — Despite a drier spring than Summit County saw last year, the Blue River basin’s snowpack total is well above the seasonal average. Treste Huse, a senior hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Boulder, said the Blue River basin sits with 120% of the average for snow-water equivalent, or how much water is held in the snowpack. 

Huse said the water in the Blue River basin snowpack is well above average for this time of year. The snowpack in the basin holds about 19.3 inches of water, compared with the average 15.7 inches of water that the basin’s snowpack typically holds this time of year.

“We’re some of the luckier ones,” Huse said. “The northern part of the state, or the north-central part of the state especially, has gotten some of the better snowpack. There’s some areas pretty dry down in southern Colorado, so we’ve been fortunate to get this much snowpack for our water supply,” Huse said. “A lot of the storms have done better for the northern half of Colorado than the southern half, and that’s been the pattern.”

Huse said that the majority of storms this year have come from the northwest and have favored the north central mountains, missing the southern mountains. The U.S. Drought Monitor’s national drought summary, which was last recorded April 21, reports that severe drought has expanded over most of southern Colorado. The Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University’s April 21 update lists the eastern plains of Colorado as an area of concern and reported that snowmelt in the Four Corners region has “kicked into high gear” and is melting faster and earlier than normal.

“With not much precipitation in April, water supply forecasts for the late spring and summer are quickly declining,” the center reported.

Going over the year in precipitation amounts, Huse said Summit County had a good October, November was fairly dry and then precipitation accumulation amounts shot up in December. She reported that February into March was great for precipitation as February saw record snowfall amounts at some of the ski areas.

Precipitation has leveled off in April with small storms bringing little accumulation aside from one recent storm system that brought 1.4 inches of snow-water equivalent. Huse said the snowpack levels were above average going into April, but the recent storm helped bring the numbers even higher. 

“We’ve had a number of good winter storms that caused the snowpack to accumulate,” Huse said, adding that the north central mountains in particular have seen a lot of snowfall this year.

A map shows above-average snowpack throughout northern Colorado but less snow-water equivalent in southern Colorado, particularly in the Upper Rio Grand basin. The Blue River basin is within the Colorado River basin.
U.S. Department of Agriculture

The Blue River basin nears the end of the precipitation cycle toward the end of April. Huse said the weather service looks at yearly precipitation from July 1 through the end of June. She said that on April 17, Dillon’s total snowfall was around 102.1 inches while normal seasonal snowfall is 107 inches, putting Dillon just a few inches shy of the average snowfall total but ahead of average for mid-April. Huse said that at this time of year, the average snowfall amount in Dillon is 94.5 inches.

As she reported in early March, Huse said snowfall totals are above average but not abnormal. She said this is the 77th highest amount of snowfall for a year in Dillon out of 112 years. The highest annual snowfall Dillon has recorded was in 1935 when the town saw 227 inches of snow.

While water in the snowpack is above average this year, Huse said the late-season precipitation is not nearly as high as 2019, which was an anomaly. She reported that while the snow-water equivalent is around 19.3 inches this year, in 2019 the Blue River basin had around 21.2 inches.

With the Goose Pasture Tarn Dam reconstruction project on hold, Breckenridge staff said that the risk of dam failure is lower because runoff is expected to be less aggressive than last year. Huse confirmed this claim.

“Based on the current snowpack, it looks like the snowmelt runoff would be less but … it kind of depends,” Huse said.

Huse said the level of runoff depends on how much more precipitation the basin gets or if there is a rapid warming in temperatures, causing snow to melt quickly. She noted that 2019 precipitation was active into April, while 2020 snow-water equivalent dipped below 2019 levels beginning in February.

The forecast for the next two weeks shows high chances of near- to below-average precipitation and above-average temperatures, according to Huse. The National Weather Service predicts warm weather this week in Summit County with temperatures as high as 70 degrees in Dillon. Despite the unseasonably warm weather, Huse said she is not expecting any flooding.

“It does look like a warmup and some snowmelt runoff, but it’s still early in the season, so no flooding or anything expected,” Huse said.

As for precipitation over the next week, Huse said chances for much accumulation are slim. The higher elevations could see between half an inch to 1.25 inches, she predicted, with only one-tenth of an inch to half an inch of precipitation in the lower elevations of Summit County.

Graph comparing the current snow water equivalent to all other years from the historical record.
National Resources Conservation Service

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