Dry January decreases Colorado snowpack
January was a dry month across Colorado which has contributed to significant decreases in the mountain snowpack percents of average across the state. According to the latest snow surveys, conducted by the USDA – Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Colorado’s statewide snowpack decreased from 136 percent of average on January 1 to 117 percent of average on February 1. Decreases in snowpack percentages were measured in all of the major river basins of the state, according to Allen Green, State Conservationist with the NRCS. While this year’s snowpack is considerably better than last year at this time, the current statewide percentage ties that measured on this date back in 2009.
Those basins across southwestern Colorado experienced the driest conditions during January, recording only about one quarter of their normal precipitation for the month. Snowpack percentages decreased by 38 percentage points in the combined San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel basins; declining from 144 percent of average on January 1, to 106 percent of average on February 1. Similar decreases were also measured in the Gunnison Basin, decreasing from 158 percent of average a month ago, to only 125 percent of average.
While decreases in percents of average were measured across the state, the February 1 snowpack totals remain above average nearly statewide. Only the Rio Grande Basin has decreased to below average this month at 80 percent of average. “Without those big storms back in December, most of the state would be well below average right now. At this point, they’ve allowed us to endure a dry month, yet maintain good snowpack readings nearly everywhere,” said Green.
Even after experiencing a dry January, the current snowpack remains well ahead of that measured a year ago at this time. With the exception of southwestern Colorado, the 2011 readings are consistently well above those of last year. Statewide totals are currently tracking at 137 percent of those from a year ago.
The accumulation of the mountain winter snowpack is critical for Colorado’s water supplies. As much as 80 percent of the state’s annual surface water supplies originate from the melting winter snowpack. Currently, the NRCS and National Weather Service River Forecast Centers are predicting that this year’s water supplies will be near, to slightly above average in most locations. Given the existing snowpack conditions, only portions of the Rio Grande and Arkansas basins are expecting summer runoff to be below average. With only about 40 percent of the winter snow accumulation season remaining, the next two months will be critical for maintaining the current streamflow forecasts for the state.
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