High temps shrinking snowpack
EAGLE COUNTY – Six straight days of back-to-back blue skies and 50-degree temperatures have caused the water-rich snowpack in surrounding mountains to melt a little faster than most weather watchers like.
That’s significant because the snowpack – the mountain wellspring of lakes and rivers – is already below average and beneath the level of the snowpack accumulated in the drought year of 2002.
At the headwaters of the Eagle River at Fremont Pass, east of Camp Hale, the snow monitoring site shows the snowpack contains 95 percent of 2002’s moisture and about 93 percent of average.
In 2002 the snow level was slightly above normal until mid-March, when it simply stopped snowing. That, coupled with hot, windy conditions in the summer, caused the worst drought in more than 300 years. Last year a heavy March storm rescued the state from the prospect of another arid summer, bringing snowpack levels to near normal on the Western Slope and to slightly above normal on the Eastern Slope.
“You essentially need 30 percent more precipitation to reach peak average which maxes out in mid-April, but you’ve got 15 percent of the (snow) season left to do it,” said Mike Gillespie of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. “You need to just about double the precipitation to reach average.”
Across the Colorado River basin, which covers most of the northwestern quarter of the state, snowpack is approximately 82 percent of average. It’s the third year of sub-par precipitation. Lake Powell in Utah, a 186-mile-long, 24.3 million acre-foot reservoir fed by the Colorado River, is now at 45 percent of capacity.
The March warm-up, however, isn’t all that abnormal, said Gillespie.
“We usually get a March thaw,” he said. “It’s not out of the ordinary. It just makes it that much harder to catch up when a new storm comes along.”
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