Blue River snowpack stays below 30-year median

The lower Blue River is seen in a past spring. Snowpack for the Blue River is currently at 86% of the 30-year median.
John Fielder/Courtesy photo

As April comes to a close within the next week, snowpack for the Blue River remains below the median.

Traditionally, snowpack begins to melt and trend downward in May. The 30-year median for the Blue River peaks on April 25 annually, with a steady downhill slope following for the rest of the summer. For weeks, snowpack measures for 2022 followed closely or mirrored the median but, toward the end of March into April, snowfall trailed behind, causing this year’s snowpack levels to trail, as well. Back in January, when local snowfall was high, 2022 even exceeded the median by several inches.

Overall, water year 2022 is in the 39th percentile for precipitation over the past three decades.

According to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, 2022’s peak hit about a week early — on April 19 — stopping at a high of 15.7 inches of snowpack. Snow from this past weekend boosted the downward slope slightly from 14.1 to 14.5 inches, but levels are considerably lower than the median (86%).

Still, 2022’s precipitation is ahead of last year, when snowpack levels for the Blue River never got above 13.5 inches.

In a forecast for the mountains this week, OpenSnow meteorologist Joel Gratz said that this week will be another warm one — with little, if any, precipitation until the weekend.

“Once the storm finally clears out on Monday morning and midday, we’ll see dry weather on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, with temperatures on Tuesday through Thursday climbing into the 40s and 50s in the mountains,” Gratz said. “Our next chance for a little bit of precipitation will be from Friday, April 29, to Saturday, April 30, though the latest models are backing off on their precipitation forecast, and I think we’ll be lucky to see any measurable precipitation. After that, maybe we’ll see more interesting weather between May 3-9, though there’s no solid storm that I can point to during these dates.”

At its quarterly board meeting Wednesday, April 20, leaders of the Colorado River District met to discuss current matters regarding the state’s river waters. In an update to the board, Director of Science and Interstate Matters Dave Kanzer and Senior Water Engineer Don Meyer wrote that the reservoirs across the state are very unlikely to fill before the summer. Currently, Denver Water reports that Dillon Reservoir is 78% full.

“Lower-than-normal snowpack across the West continues to be exacerbated by dry soil conditions and ‘thirsty’ atmospheric conditions,” the update reads. “This is expected to continue to cause the larger-than-normal demand for water that has adversely impacted reservoir storage across the Upper (Colorado River Basin), and the prospect for refilling them is not optimistic. In other words, the significant cumulative hydrological deficit continues to grow; it will take multiple years of above average conditions to recover.”

At each of Summit County’s ski areas, this weekend’s storm brought in several inches. Arapahoe Basin Ski Area has totaled 32 inches of snow so far this month, and almost a third of that came on Saturday, April 22, and Sunday, April 24. Breckenridge Ski Resort saw a similar trend, with 9 of the total 29 inches in April coming from this past weekend.

Copper Mountain Resort — which closed Sunday — and Loveland Ski Area each recorded 30 inches of snow in April so far, with more expected to potentially fall later this week, according to OpenSnow. Because Keystone Resort is closed, the data for April snow levels ended on April 17, which puts Keystone at 18 inches for the month.

The Colorado Avalanche Information Center has rated Summit County’s avalanche risk as “moderate,” which is a 2 on a 5-point scale. In a forecast Sunday morning, the center published that recreationists should avoid any slopes steeper than roughly 30 degrees in places where they find more than about 2 feet of new snow. The last observed avalanche in the area was recorded Saturday in the Gore Range just north of Buffalo Mountain. It was human-triggered, but no one was caught.

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