Middle Park snowpack 143 percent of normal
March 9, 2017
It has been a wet winter for the western US.
The Sierra Nevada Mountains in California saw more than 20 feet of snow drop in January. Jackson Hole, Wyo. had its first snow day for schools in over 20 years. Grand County has also been inundated with the white stuff, and despite what can feel like unseasonably warm conditions, the snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin is sitting at about 134 percent of normal.
Snowpack levels are tabulated by the US Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The NRCS uses an expansive network of data survey sites to tabulate snowpack levels. Mark Volt and Mike Ardison conduct the snow surveys in Grand County. Volt is based out of the Kremmling Field Office of the NRCS.
The snowpack for Middle Park alone is currently at 143 percent of normal. High elevation totals range anywhere from 110 percent to 206 percent of normal. Normal snowpack conditions are determined by calculating a 30-year average. Last year at this time Middle Park was at 104 percent of normal.
Snow survey data for Middle Park is collected at 15 different locations in Grand County and four in Summit County. Collection points in Grand County include the Arapaho Ridge, the summit of Berthoud, Corral Creek, Jones Pass, Lynx Pass and Will Creek Pass among others. Some of the data collection sites are automated while others require snow surveyors to physically go to the location to gather the information.
The Granby Snow Course is one of those data collection points and is located not far from the C Lazy U Ranch. The Granby Snow Course has the highest level of snowpack in Middle Park as a percent of normal at 206 percent. Volt said the Granby Course set a record high for snowpack on March 1. The recorded snow depth for the Granby Snow Course for March 1 was 37 inches.
Surprisingly the high temperatures we saw in Grand County in January and February had little impact on overall snowpack. "Even with the recent warm weather and valley melt, the survey shows that we are in real good shape up high," stated Volt. He said some of the high elevation snow received some rain in recent weeks, but the snow simply absorbed the rain adding to the overall moisture content of the snowpack.
"That doesn't make for good powder skiing if you are a backcountry skier but it is great for snowpack," Volt said.
Right now snow density in the Middle Park survey area is 32 percent. That means there are 3.8 inches of water in one foot of snow depth. The Middle Park survey area stretches from the Colorado River headwaters area near the Continental Divide down through Middle Park to just above the Gore Canyon,
Across the state, the story is largely the same. Snowpack is currently well above normal with the lowest levels of snowpack found in the Yampa and White River Basins at 119 percent. The southern portions of Colorado have been inundated with the flurries this year. The Gunnison River Basin and the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basins are sitting at 152 percent of normal.
Snowpack data is collected from January through April each year. Volt said snow surveyors consider the April 1 reading as the most critical data set for predicting spring runoff figures and summer water supplies.