Yep, it’s dry: Snowpack at 71% of average |

Yep, it’s dry: Snowpack at 71% of average

summit daily news
Special to the DailyRecent cooler winters aside, experts believe global warming will translate into warmer, shorter ski seasons in Colorado. Here, a snowcat at Vail moves snow around to cover the Born Free run for opening day two years ago.

SUMMIT COUNTY – With less snowfall this winter, snowpack for the end of January is about 71 percent of average in the local Blue River Basin area, according to data from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The Colorado River headwaters region runoff forecasts range from about 65 to 75 percent of normal, said Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor with the Conservation Service.

“It’s definitely a noticeably dry year when they get that low,” he said. “Now that it’s about 60 percent through the winter snow-accumulation season, it doesn’t leave a lot of room for improvement.”

He said El Nino is likely to blame for this winter’s weather patterns.

“Those January storms were pretty much a classic pattern for what we expect (with an El Nino system) that really pounds California, Arizona and New Mexico,” Gillespie. “We get lucky in the San Juans, but it doesn’t really get north of there.”

But the situation could be worse if reservoir levels weren’t as high. At the end of December 2009, the Dillon Reservoir level was 107 percent of average, according to the NRCS website at

Data on January 2010 is to be released today.

“There may be decent reservoir storage to alleviate some of the shortages down the road in the summer months,” Gillespie said.

He said the Blue River Basin by Feb. 1 is the driest its been since 1991.

National Weather Service observer Rick Bly, who lives and records snowfall in the town of Breckenridge, said exactly 14 inches of snow fell in January – down from an average of 22.4

“Right now, due to a good October, it’s about 76 percent (of average),” he said of this season’s snowfall. “But December through January were only about 56 percent of average.”

February snowfall amounts range from 2.1 inches in 1982 to 84.5 inches in 1893, “so there’s a pretty wide range of what to look forward to,” Bly said.

The U.S. Drought Monitor lists Summit and Eagle counties as “abnormally dry,” but none of the state is in a drought, according to

Next month is predicted to have an average level of precipitation, with slight possibility for above-average precipitation in the next three months, according to the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center.


associated press writer

DENVER – Colorado’s $2 billion winter sports industry and millions of acres of forests are threatened as climate change causes “oddball winter weather” in the state, business and conservation leaders said Tuesday.

Bark beetles have been able to infest about

3 million acres of pine trees in Colorado without long bouts of subzero weather to kill them, said Joe Duda of the Colorado State Forest Service.

Shorter winters and warm weather that brings rain rather than snow spell big trouble for Colorado’s ski areas, said Auden Schendler of the Aspen Skiing Co.

Aspen Skiing has taken steps to become more energy efficient and help cut fossil-fuel emissions, which produce greenhouse gases and heat the atmosphere, Schendler said.

“What matters most is getting people in Washington to know that we care about this,” Schendler said.

The ski company’s chief executive has talked to White House officials and members of Congress. David Dittloff, a regional coordinator with the National Wildlife Federation, said the environmental group has flown hunters and anglers to Washington and worked with American Indian tribes and businesses to promote legislation to reduce greenhouse gases.

“The health of wildlife populations and many species depend on us,” Dittloff said.

The economic benefits of Colorado’s wildlife total about $3 billion annually, including hunting, fishing and wildlife watching, Dittloff said.

The environmental group released a report Monday on climate change titled “Odd-ball Winter Weather: Global Warming’s Wake-up Call for the Northern United States.”

Schendler said erratic weather – shorter winters, rain in the spring instead of snow – has been a wake-up call for the ski industry. Colorado’s ski areas don’t start making money until March, said Schendler.

“If you lose March in the ski industry,” Schendler said, “you go out of business.”

The warmer weather also makes it tougher to make snow, he said.

A big part of the solution is to replace coal-fired power plants with cleaner-burning fuels, Schendler said. He criticized Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., for joining a congressional caucus on coal.

Salazar represents western Colorado, which includes Aspen and other ski resorts.

“We think he shouldn’t try to fund-raise in Telluride or Aspen,” Schendler said of Salazar.

The congressman joined the new caucus for representatives from coal-producing states because his district includes 3,000 workers in the industry, said Eric Wortman, Salazar’s spokesman.

Salazar wants to explore technology aimed at making coal production cleaner, including capturing carbon dioxide emissions, Wortman said.

Salazar voted against a bill targeting climate change that passed the House but hasn’t been considered in the Senate. Salazar thought the bill was too expensive, Wortman said.

“The congressman believes global warming is an issue,” he said.

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