Colorado’s snowpack levels improving on the Western Slope after January storms

Conrad Swanson
The Denver Post
Summit County resident Eric Lentz works to clear snow Thursday, Jan. 6, in Breckenridge.
Ashley Low/For the Summit Daily News

Snowpack levels on the Western Slope continue to climb above normal for this time of the year thanks to recent winter storms.

Climatologists expressed concern at lower snowpack levels earlier in the winter. Snowfall on the Western Slope feeds into the Colorado River, upon which tens of millions of people depend. And abnormally dry conditions to the east exacerbate wildfire risk, seen most recently in the devastating Marshall Fire in Boulder County.

Over the past few weeks, snowpack levels trended toward above-average levels.

Data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service shows that as of Sunday, Jan. 9, the upper Colorado River basin, which includes Summit County, was at 124% of normal snow-water equivalent, a measurement of the amount of water held in the snowpack.

The Yampa and White rivers basin, where Steamboat Springs is located, was at 133% of normal; The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan rivers basin in southwest Colorado, where Durango is located, is at 138% of normal; the upper Rio Grand River basin, where Alamosa is located, is at 149% of normal; and leading the state is the Gunnison River basin at 160% of normal.

This Natural Resources Conservation Service map shows significant improvement in Colorado’s snowpack, especially along the Western Slope.
Natural Resources Conservation Service/Courtesy map

The recent snowfall means drought conditions are no longer as severe as they were in late December, according to the latest data from the National Drought Mitigation Center.

With the improving snowpack, some Western Slope areas in Garfield, Gunnison, Mesa and Pitkin counties are now considered to be “abnormally dry,” an improvement over the moderate and severe drought conditions previously noted by the National Drought Mitigation Center.

Summit County is now in moderate drought, an improvement from weeks earlier.

Above-average snowfall must continue not only this month but also in February and into the spring for the state to recharge dry soils and refill parched streams that feed into record-low reservoirs, experts have said.

The U.S. Drought Monitor map shows improved drought conditions across much of the Western Slope, including Summit County.
U.S. Drought Monitor/Courtesy map

Summit County is in for a warm and sunny week, with highs reaching into the upper 40s by Thursday, when a high of 48 is forecast by the National Weather Service.

Snow is back in the picture Thursday night and Friday, but it’s still too early to know how much could fall, if any.

“The last few model runs … showed very little to no snow,” OpenSnow meteorologist Sam Collentine wrote in his daily Interstate 70 blog.

There will be another chance of snow Jan. 19 “followed by encouraging signs for more storminess after Jan. 20,” Collentine wrote.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.