Grand County snowpack at 102 percent of average
February 15, 2018
The current winter has been tepid with only modest snowfall for most of Colorado and the western Rockies but, according to federal officials who monitor snowpack, the situation in the upper Colorado River Basin might not be as dire as it seems.
Data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a division within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, shows that snowpack in Grand County is currently listed anywhere from a low of 81 percent of average, at the Middle Fork Camp SNOTEL site near the South Fork Campground in the Williams Fork drainage, to a high of 145 percent of average, at Buffalo Park northwest of Kremmling.
According to data taken from the NRCS, snowpack in Grand County currently sits at 102.5 percent of average. The NRCS uses a 30-year average to calculate percentage totals. Currently averages are based on snowpack figures from 1980 through 2010. In 2020 the NRCS will shift their data set and will begin using the years 1990 through 2020 as their data set for determining 30-year averages.
Those figures may come as a surprise to many residents of Middle Park who have seen local weather patterns over the past few months including seemingly below average snowfall. Vane Fulton, who works for the NRCS out of the Routt County offices, said he understands if the numbers confuse people but he is not surprised to see the current snowpack for Grand County.
"These numbers don't surprise me," Fulton said. "But anecdotally we don't have low elevation snow. The SNOTEL sites are all pretty high in elevation. We don't really track snowpack at lower elevations."
Snowpack data is important for many reasons but it is especially important to ranchers who farmers who rely on irrigation water, produced by snowmelt runoff. Snowpack data collection sites are located at high elevations as opposed to lower elevations because higher elevation sites gives researchers a more accurate estimate of the amount of water that will actually make it into local rivers and reservoirs.
Fulton said he recently accompanied Mark Volt, an NRCS official based out of the Kremmling office, on a series of "ground truth" snowpack measurements, wherein officials hike to predetermined locations to physically measure the snowpack. Most of the snowpack data information provided by the NRCS is taken from snowfall telemetry sites that record and log data remotely.
Volt was not available for comment Thursday morning but Fulton said that the figures found by conducting on-the-ground snow surveys confirmed the range of figures showing up on the SNOTEL data registers.
Basin-wide the snowpack for the upper Colorado River currently stands at 84 percent of average. That figure includes snowpack data from throughout north western Colorado including the Independence Pass area near Aspen and points further west as the Grand Mesa.
Snowpack data is collected from January through April each year. Officials from the NRCS have previously told Sky-Hi News that the April 1 snowpack reading is the most critical data set for predicting spring runoff and summer water supply figures.