Middle Park snowpack below historic average despite snowy February
March 11, 2018
Early March sunshine and balmy temperatures have been melting snow throughout Middle Park over the past few weeks and as the first day of spring approaches federal officials are keeping a close eye on Colorado's anemic snowpack.
Statewide Colorado's snowpack stood at roughly 72 percent of the historic average after snowpack surveys were conducted after the first of the month. Snowfall is down significantly from last year's figures. As of March 1 Colorado's snowpack for the year was just 52 percent of the figure recorded on the same date in 2017.
The state got a big boost in February with the entire state seeing above average snowfall over the month's 28 days, but it appears Mother Nature is getting to work a little too late. According to federal officials February's deluge "has done little to improve the snowpack outlook for these regions."
"The month ended with all but one of the state's major river basins receiving above normal monthly precipitation, which boosted year-to-date percent of average precipitations for all basins," stated a snowpack report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a division of the US Department of Agriculture that tracks snowpack data. "The Upper Colorado and the combined Yampa, White, and North Platte River basins are both at 83 percent of average for the water year after receiving 107 and 111 percent of average February precipitation, respectively."
Across Grand County's sub-basins snowpack tallies varied slightly but the overall picture remained the same with most of Middle Park currently resting between 80 and 90 percent of average. Grand County's Willow Creek sub-basin is doing better than most of the watersheds in the north central Rockies with a March 1 snowpack reading at 93 percent of average.
Federal officials noted the streamflow forecast for Willow Creek Reservoir is the highest in the entire Upper Colorado River Basin at 94 percent of average, well above the figures posted in western Colorado's Roaring Fork sub-basin, which has a recorded inflow figure of just 59 percent of the historic average. On the lower side of things in Grand County is the Williams Fork River sub-basin, which came in at 80 percent of average.
The Upper Colorado sub-basin, focused on northeastern Grand County, provides some of the most reliable snowpack data available for officials with a total of 36 survey sites where snowpack data is tallied. At the start of March the area snowpack came in at 86 percent of average.
One factor that will be of importance to ranchers, farmers and anyone else who relies on downstream river flows throughout the spring and summer are reservoir storage figures. Despite our lackluster winter reservoir storage at the end of February was 120 percent of the historic average and, surprisingly, above the tally for 2017, which came in at 107 percent of average at the same time last year.
According to a report by the Denver Post Colorado needs to receive snowfall at a rate nearly double its historic average for the next two months for statewide snowpack to reach a level on par with historic averages.