Snow-water equivalent reaches above 90% in the Blue River basin

Buffalo Mountain and surrounding peaks are reflected off Dillon Reservoir on April 27. As of June 8, 2022, the Blue River Basin is over 90% of the 30-year median for snow-water equivalent.
Jason Connolly/Summit Daily News

Snow water equivalent for the Blue River basin has remained consistent with the 30-year median, still ahead of last year. 

As of June 8, the Blue River basin has just over an inch — 1.3 inches in fact — of snow-water equivalent, which is the depth of water that would cover the ground if the snow were melted. This is almost on par to the 30-year median for this time of year. The median equivalent for June 8 is 1.4 inches. 

Spring snowfall gave the river a significant boost between May 20 and May 25, which added 1.4 inches of water between six SNOTEL sites over those five days. Before that, the Blue River was seeing those levels drop quickly — as it often does in May and June — but that boost, plus a very small increase in snow between May 29-31, pushed this year’s totals even above the 30-year median. 

Recent melt is not far off from 2021. This time last year, the Blue River basin was measured to have 0.8 inches left of snow water equivalent. If 2022’s totals continue to follow the historic median, the basin will run out of snowpack by June 22. In 2021, SNOTEL sites measured zero inches on June 13. 

Denver Water is reporting that the Dillon Reservoir is 89% full. The ramp at Dillon Marina is unusable for most motorized craft at water elevation of 8,971 feet, and for Frisco Bay Marina, that number is 9,009 feet. Currently, Dillon Reservoir is measuring 9,017 feet of elevation at its spillway.

At the State of the River meeting discussing conditions for the Blue River, Nathan Elder, the manager of raw water supply for Denver Water, said there was a 50-50 chance of the reservoir filling, and there likely will not be sustained flow for a long rafting season locally. According to recent reporting from The Denver Post, other rivers in the state — such as the South Platte River drainage and the Arkansas River Basin — are having successful seasons. 

According to the National Weather Service in Boulder, there is a 20% chance of showers and thunderstorms after noon on Friday, June 10. Conditions are expected to continue to be mostly sunny, with a high near 69 degrees. It will be breezy, with winds gusting as high as 34 mph. The next chance for rain will be on Saturday, but it’s a slight chance.

Alan Smith, meteorologist for OpenSnow, wrote on Wednesday that though other parts of the West are likely to see rainfall, for the most part, this won’t affect Colorado.

Just because a lot of local snow has melted does not mean that avalanches have stopped. Two field reports of avalanches in Summit County were submitted on June 1. One came from a skier on the west face of Grizzly Peak toward Loveland Pass, where the skier described “extremely wet heavy snow.” The other report reads that a smaller avalanche happened at Marjorie Bowl where there had been “wet, loose snow,” as well.

Mike Cooperstein, lead forecaster for the Northern Mountains for the Colorado Avalanche Information Center said in his most recent forecast that avalanches are possible in the mountains of Colorado whenever you find snow on a steep slope. Wet-slab avalanches, he added, are more dangerous.

“As the snow heats up and begins to melt, water moving through the snow pack can produce avalanches,” Cooperstein wrote. “Watch the overnight low temperatures at high-elevation weather stations, but remember that air temperature, cloud cover and wind all affect how the snow freezes each night. Regardless of what wet avalanche you are worried about, remember to stay off and out from under steep snow-covered slopes when you start to sink into the wet snow more than about six inches.”

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