Lack of March snow likely to bring drought to parts of Middle Park |

Lack of March snow likely to bring drought to parts of Middle Park

Matt Barnes
Grand County, CO Colorado
Photo by Matt Barnes / USDA-NRCS

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Kremmling Field Office snow surveyors Mark Volt and Matt Barnes took the April 1 snow survey measurements during the last days of March, when the monthly precipitation for the upper Colorado River Basin was a scant 68 percent of average.

Snowpack in the mountains above Middle Park now ranges from 59 percent to 107 percent of the 30-year average, with the highest readings on the southeast side of the valley, and the lowest readings along Rabbit Ears Divide on the north side of the valley.

This is slightly more snow than on April 1 in the drought years of 2002 or 2004.

“This resumes the pattern of weak spring snows observed during 2005-2007, despite the fact that March is historically the snowiest month,” said Mark ‘Doctor’ Volt, District Conservationist.

“The April 1 readings are the most critical for predicting runoff and summer water supplies, as most of our high country snowpack peaks during April.”

Snow density is averaging 31 percent, which means that for a foot of snow there are 3.7 inches of water. This is less water than normal for this depth of snow on April 1.

Muddy, Troublesome, Corral, and Willow creeks in Middle Park, and the North Platte River in North Park, have the lowest snowpack in the state.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, most of Grand County and adjacent parts of Jackson and Routt counties are now in moderate drought, with northern Summit County and most of the rest of northwest Colorado abnormally dry.

The highest snowpack, relative to normal, is in the upper Rio Grande Basin in south-central Colorado.

Reported readings for the major river basins in Colorado are as follows:

• Colorado River Basin, 76%

• Gunnison River Basin, 94%

• South Platte River Basin, 83

• Yampa and White River Basins, 77%

• Arkansas River Basin, 111%

• Upper Rio Grande Basin, 115%

• San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan River Basins 101%

• Laramie and North Platte River Basins, 74%

Most of the snow courses around Middle Park have been read since the 1940s. Snow course readings are taken at the end of each month, beginning in January and continuing through April.

For further information, including real-time snow and precipitation data for SNOTEL (automated Snow Telemetry) sites, visit

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