Hydrologist: Next 30 days ‘critical’ for Summit County’s snowpack
Following last weekend’s major snowstorm, Colorado’s snowpack has improved, but it still lags behind the 30-year median.
The percent of normal snow-water equivalent — the amount of water held in the snowpack — in all eight of the state’s major river basins has increased since early March, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, but five basins remain below normal levels for this time of year.
The Upper Colorado basin, which Summit County falls into, has increased its snow-water equivalent by 4 percentage points since March 5 and is currently at 89% of normal according to the Conservation Service. Breaking things down even further, the latest numbers show that the snow-water equivalent is 87% of the 30-year median at Copper Mountain and 94% at Hoosier Pass.
While the snowpack isn’t quite where it normally is this time of year, the snow has picked up recently. National Weather Service reports show that March snowfall is above average with 12.5 inches tallied so far at the Dillon weather station. Normal snowfall accumulation recorded at the station through March 18 is 9.5 inches. March’s above-average snowfall follows snowfall that was below normal levels in December, January and February.
National Weather Service senior hydrologist Treste Huse said that while the recent snowstorm did help Summit County’s snowpack, it was most beneficial east of the Continental Divide, bringing the South Platte basin up to 100% of normal.
“That Blue River above Dillon SnoTel group … as of yesterday is showing 88% of normal,” Huse said in reference to Summit County’s snowpack level. “It went up with this last storm, maybe by an inch of snow-water equivalent, just not as much as areas east of the divide. So it got a little boost from this storm, still below normal, but a little better than it was.”
Huse explained that the snowpack in Summit County looks similar to 2018 levels, which had the lowest snowpack of the previous five years. Huse said that by mid-April, hydrologists will be able to better gauge what the snowpack level will mean for the rest of the year in terms of water supplies, drought and other environmental factors and added that Summit County’s 88% snowpack “isn’t bad” for now.
“It looks good now, but this is kind of a critical time. … If it all dries out again, and we don’t get any snowfall or rain this spring, that’s a problem,” Huse said, noting that the amount of precipitation that ends up falling on Summit County in the next 30 days will be critical.
Huse added that the drought severity in Summit County has been improving over the past month and a half, but things didn’t change this week. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which uses a scale of drought intensity that ranges from D0, abnormally dry, to D4, exceptional drought, the southern half of Summit County is in a D2 severe drought and the northern half is in a D3 extreme drought.
“It’s taking a while to climb out of that drought in (Summit County),” Huse said. “The thing is, last spring was dry, last fall was dry, so the soil moisture really dried out. And so that’s part of the thing with the snowpack is that it may not run off like a normal year; it will just soak into the ground, so maybe you won’t see as much water supply.”
Looking forward, Huse said a cold front will move in Saturday and is expected to bring a few inches of snow. The 10-day outlook calls for a slight chance of precipitation from March 23-27 but then seems to dry up after that. The 30-day outlook issued March 18 isn’t too promising, calling for a high chance of above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation.
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