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May precip below average

BOB BERWYNsummit daily news
Summit Daily/Kristin Skvorc
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SUMMIT COUNTY – While precipitation in Summit County remained well below average for the second month in a row, there’s still enough snow left in the hills to fill and spill Dillon Reservoir for the second year in a row.Only 2.5 inches (22 percent of average) of snow fell at Rick Bly’s backyard weather station in Breckenridge, where he tallies precipitation statistics for the National Weather Service. The average for the month, based on records going back more than 100 years, is 11 inches. Snow and rain combined added up to 1.14 inches of water, 65 percent of average, Bly said, adding that cool nights at least moderated the snowmelt and extended the runoff. Average precipitation for May is 1.74 inches.

Bly said the long-term outlook from the National Weather Service doesn’t sound good in terms of potential fire danger, with precipitation forecast to be 50 percent of average and temperatures ranging 6 to 7 degrees above average.No surprise in the High Country, June can still bring some snowfall, on average 2.28 inches, Bly said, although adding that there have been plenty of years when no snow fell at all. The snowiest June ever was 1984, with 16 inches. Average precipitation for the month is 1.39 inches.At Dillon, where Denver Water officials also tally stats for the weather service, only trace amounts of snow were measured, as compared to average 7.4 inches, based on records dating back to 1909. Total precipitation for the month was 1.05 inches, well below the average 1.44 inches.The average high and low temperatures were slightly above normal, at 61.8 degrees (average 58.5) and 26.9 degrees (average 25.6), respectively. The warmest day was May 26, at 73 degrees, with the thermometer bottoming out at 14 degrees on May 11.

The outlook for the next several months is murky right now, said University of Colorado climatologist Klaus Wolter, who accurately forecasted the snowy start and dry end to this past winter.Wolter said conditions at his home, northwest of Boulder at 8,500 feet, were even drier in the March-May span than during the 2002 drought, with only 5 inches of precipitation in those three months. Wolter said a pronounced 50-year warming trend in spring temperatures in the Rockies is worrisome because it could fuel a cycle of earlier snowpack meltout, leading to even warmer spring temperatures.A La Niña condition (cooler than average water in the eastern Pacific) is fading, and may be replaced by a weak El Niño (warmer sea surface temps) that could help fuel more monsoon moisture. And Wolter said there are some signs that a monsoon circulation could set up in mid-June, far earlier than usual, bringing some thunderstorms and rain to the Rockies, though that outlook is far from certain.

But despite the dry spring, water managers are still expecting to fill most of Colorado’s reservoirs this summer, including Dillon, which was only about 5,000 acre-feet from capacity at the start of June. Based on current inflow rates, the reservoir should be full by June 5, said Denver Water’s Mark Waage. Spillover through the glory hole would likely begin a few days later, leading to increased flows in the Lower Blue – good news for fish and rafters. Exactly how much water will flow through the Lower Blue and for how long is still up in the air, pending snowmelt rates and other factors.Bob Berwyn can be reached (970) 331-5996, or at bberwyn@summitdaily.com.


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