Local snowpack shows significant improvement over last year
Winter snowpack across Grand County continues to hold strong as federal officials look at statewide tallies that show a marked improvement over last year’s anemic accumulation.
At the beginning of February, officials from the Kremmling Field Office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS, tallied Middle Park’s snowpack at 117 percent of historic averages. That was a significant increase from the same time last year when Middle Park’s snowpack was at only 80 percent of historic averages.
“It is still early in the winter and snowpack could change significantly by May,” stated officials from the Kremmling Field Office. “But we’re off to a darn good start.”
Snowpack data is important for many reasons but is primarily calculated by officials as a means of predicating the amount of water that will be available for agricultural purposes during spring and summer runoff periods. Snowpack figures help water managers accurately distribute water to the myriad of entities and individuals who are entitled to water shares each year.
Specifically in Grand County, reviewing only data derived from SNOTEL sites, snowpack in the area is currently averaging just over 90 percent of historic averages, as of Feb. 24, slightly less than at the start of the month.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s SNOTEL sites, the deepest snow in Grand County can be found north of Kremmling and east of Muddy Pass in the Chimney Rock area at the Arapaho Ridge SNOTEL site. Snow at Arapaho Ridge was 69 inches deep, which is 110 percent of historic averages at that location for this time of year.
Around the county, snowpack figures varied with deeper snow being found on the county’s north end, along the edges of the Rabbit Ears and Never Summer Ranges. The SNOTEL sites recorded a snow depth of 54 inches on Berthoud Pass as of Sunday morning, at 87 percent of average, while Jones Pass, just a short distance west, was experiencing snow that was 50 inches deep, which was 83 percent of average.
NRCS researchers tabulate snowpack figures from data gathered at snow survey sites throughout the region. Snowpack data for Middle Park, an area that encompasses all of Grand County as well as portions of Summit County, comes from 19 separate locations including 15 sites in Grand County and four in Summit.
The NRCS collects snowpack data from January through April each year, and includes information derived from automated SNOTEL sites that dot the county. It also includes data taken from other locations called snow courses, which require observers to physically go into the field and gather measurements.
Historic average snowfall is calculated by the NRCS by tabulating all snowfall data for a specific area over a 30-year period. Currently, the NRCS uses data sets stretching from 1981 through 2010 to determine historic averages. Starting in 2020, the NRCS will shift its data set and begin tabulating historic averages based on data collected from 1991 through 2020.
Looking at the state as a whole, including all eight water basins in Colorado, statewide snowpack currently stands at roughly 118.5 percent of historic averages, with the deepest snow being found further south. The situation in 2019 has flipped from where the state was at the same time last year, when the southwest corner of Colorado experienced severe shortages of snowfall.
As of Feb. 23, the deepest snowpack in the state could be found around Durango and Telluride in the southern San Juan Mountains where officials tallied the pack at 129 percent of average. Also as of late February, snowpack in the upper Colorado River Basin, encompassing all lands draining into the Colorado River between the river’s headwaters and the Utah state line, stands at 115 percent of historic averages, according to NRCS data.
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