Snowpack levels in major Summit County river basin reach 121% of the 30-year median thanks to recent storm systems
Editor’s note: This story’s headline has been updated to correct the percentage of the 30-year-median.
Although Summit County may not be receiving as much snow as Steamboat Springs or Winter Park, the 2022-23 winter season has still proven to be bountiful in terms of the current snowpack and snow water equivalent levels.
According to the National Weather Service, the last winter storm front — which hit Summit County from the evening of Tuesday, Jan. 17, to Wednesday afternoon — brought anywhere from 3 to 7 inches of fresh snow, though local ski resorts reported higher totals at their high-elevation snow stakes.
The new snow helped to further push the Blue River Basin’s snowpack in the right direction to aid summer runoff and water levels, but Division Engineer at Colorado Division of Water Resources James Heath warns there is still a lot of time for things to change in either direction.
“We are still in the really early season, so it is hard to say for sure,” Heath said of the current snowpack and snow water equivalent levels. “The last storm definitely picked up the snowpack levels. The ridge along the Continental Divide got more snow than we have been seeing at other stations.”
According to data from the National Resources Conservation Service, the Blue River Basin’s snowpack and snow water equivalent is currently reading at 9.6 inches as of Thursday, Jan. 19. This week’s snowfall boosted the snowpack from 9.4 inches on Wednesday and 8.9 inches from the beginning of the week on Sunday, Jan. 15.
On Jan. 19, 2022, the Blue River Basin’s snowpack was at 9.6 inches and then kept on a steady increase until peaking on April 19 at 15.6 inches.
Currently the snowpack in the Blue River Basin is at 121% of the 30-year median and 58% of the median peak.
In terms of what this means for the summer months, Heath says that signs are currently pointing toward a good river season this spring and summer.
“At this point, it is looking promising,” Heath said. “There is less water that needs to be stored in Green Mountain and Dillon Reservoir based on the snow we have been seeing.”
Heath expanded by saying that the snowfall that the Blue River Basin has seen so far is a good sign considering that Colorado’s snowiest months are typically March and April.
It was during March and April in 2022 that the snowpack rose at a steady rate, from 11.7 inches to 15.6 inches by the second week of April.
Heath expects a similar trend to occur this year with numbers steadily rising until around the end of April. The current forecast predicts that the snowpack will reach its median peak 93 days from now on April 21.
“We still have a ways to go until we get to that median peak,” Heath said. “Once we get that 100% median peak, we will be completely good in terms of runoff this summer.”
The National Weather Service is anticipating a cool, snowy period over the next week, which may add a few inches to the current snowpack in the Blue River Basin.
“There is a shot of snow Friday afternoon and over into the evening, probably nothing more than an inch or less,” National Weather Service forecaster Robert Koopmeiners said. “There is a decent storm that should come in on Sunday afternoon. That storm will have better snowfall amounts for Summit with maybe 3 to 6 inches.”
The next shot for snow will then occur on Tuesday and Wednesday, but forecasts show just occasional showers with little accumulation.
In terms of long term forecasts, the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center is predicting a 50% to 55% chance of below normal temperatures over the next three to four weeks with a 50 to 55% chance of above average precipitation.
From February through April, the Climate Prediction Center is foreseeing an equal chance for above or below normal temperatures, with a 33 to 40% chance of below normal precipitation.
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