What spring may bring: Forecasters up in air about Grand County snowpack outlook
March 1, 2009
While other parts of Colorado are experiencing below-average precipitation, Grand County is enjoying a comfortable snowpack at 119 percent of average, according to Mike Gillespie, Snow Survey supervisor of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
But experts aren’t predicting for certain whether the trend will continue or evaporate.
A La Nina weather pattern off the eastern tropics of the Pacific Ocean brought heavy December snows and consistent winter storms to Middle Park ” but a weakening La Nina usually favors a drier spring, he said.
With the snow year three-fourths complete, that surplus will be vital if spring brings drier-than-average weather.
If the sky severely dries up, Grand County “could go into deficit mode my mid-April,” Gillespie said.
The Colorado Basin is running behind last year’s snowpack, which had steady increases through April. Estimated to be at 90 percent of last year, “It’s close, but still a little under. You don’t have the same cushion you had this time last year to try and endure a dry spell,” he said.
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This week Gillespie’s department is conducting manual snow measurements around the state for runoff forecasts that will begin next week.
Grand County’s reservoir storage has recovered from the 2002 drought, while the Eastern Plains are enduring a slight drought this year.
Some climatologists foresee a slim chance that El Nino patterns could sweep in after March. Approaching from the south over fewer mountain ranges, El Nino-influenced weather could dump precipitation in the Colorado high country.
But if the northern El Nina holds on in her weaker state, Grand County residents could expect some snowfall in March followed by a drier April and May, climatologists predicted.
Experts are not placing their bets yet, since April usually does whatever it wants, said Climatologist Klaus Wolter of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Although it may be too early to tell, “With La Nina weakening and not as strong as last year, it leaves the door open for anything,” he said, adding that Grand County’s 119 percent of average snowpack is “nothing to sneeze at.”
“It’s much better than a 70 percent, waiting for a Hail Mary pass to get wet.”
” Tonya Bina can be reached at 887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail email@example.com.