Middle Park snowpack plummets in March
Area snowpack readings fell precipitously during the month of March, according to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
NRCS Kremmling Field Office snow surveyor Mark Volt took the April 1 snow survey measurements during the last days of March and found snowpack for Middle Park and the Upper Colorado River Basin stands at only 78 percent of average.
The survey conducted the month prior showed readings close to 100 percent . At this time last year, area snowpack stood at 144 percent. By contrast, during the drought year of 2002, it was 62 percent on April 1.
Snowpack in the mountains above Middle Park ranges from 26 percent to 107 percent of the 30-year average.. Snow density is averaging 28 percent, which means 1 foot of snow contains 3.3 inches of water.
“Irrigators, towns, river runners and other water users can expect lower than normal river levels this summer,” according to the NRCS report.
“From this point on, spring runoff will be highly dependent on melting conditions (i.e., temperature and wind), as well as spring snow accumulation and/or rainfall. While late season snowstorms large enough to provide the kind of moisture we need are possible, they are not probable,” the report continues.
On the bright side, reservoir storage in the Colorado River Basin stands at 124 percent of average after last year’s above average snowpack and wet summer.
“And be glad we don’t live in California,” the NRCS report says, “where the snowpack is reported to be at only 6 percent of average.)
Statewide, significant snowpack gains in late February and early March were a result of a short-lived weather pattern.
“Afterward, the proverbial faucet shut off yielding minimal precipitation through the remainder of March,” the report says. “The period of March 6th through April 1st was the second driest for the period of record dating back to 1986; only 2012 saw a drier March 6th through April 1st period.”
The report continues, “To compound the issue, early spring temperatures this year have caused snowpack melt, observed most particularly at lower and some mid-elevation SNOTEL sites. Seasonal snowpack decline this early in the spring is rare and only occurs in one out of every 10 years. Water year 2012 was the extreme case in which snowpack melt began and continued unabated for the remainder of the spring due to above normal temperatures.”
Most of the snow courses around Middle Park have been read since the 1940s. March is historically the snowiest month, and the April 1 readings are the most critical for predicting runoff and summer water supplies, as most of the high country snowpack peaks around that time. Manual snow courses will be read for the final time this year at the end of April.
For further information, including real-time snow and precipitation data for SNOTEL (automated Snow Telemetry) sites, visit http://www.co.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/index.html.
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