Snowpack levels are off to a good start for the 2021-22 water year
Finally, there is some good news for local water supply: Snowpack levels are slightly above average.
Snowpack is measured by snow-water equivalent, or the amount of water held in the snowpack. As of Friday, Nov. 12, the snow-water equivalent for the Upper Colorado River basin, which Summit County falls into, is at 101% of normal, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s latest map.
“From what I’ve been seeing so far, everything is pretty close to normal,” conservation service snow survey supervisor Brian Domonkos said Friday, Nov. 12. “… It’s noteworthy, especially (after) the last two years that we’ve had, that the snowpack is near normal.”
Domonkos noted, however, that it is early in the year, and there isn’t a lot of snow yet, so whether the snowpack levels are below, at or above normal could quickly change.
The conservation service’s latest numbers show that the Blue River sub-basin has accumulated 2.3 inches of snow-water equivalent as of Monday, Nov. 15, for the current water year, which began Oct. 1 and runs through Sept. 30, 2022. The basin is also at 101% of normal, which is calculated based on all other years from the historical record going back to 1981.
The Upper Colorado River basin is running at about median snowpack levels for this time of year as compared to the period of record starting in 1984, Domonkos said. Usually, there are about 2 inches of snow-water equivalent accumulated in early to mid-November, and the basin is at about 1.9 inches, Domonkos said, noting that this is above the basin’s snowpack level at this time last year.
Domonkos pointed out that overall in Colorado, snowpack during the past two falls was slightly below normal, and the warm, dry fall in 2020 made for an unstable snowpack.
“Fortunately, this fall that we’re in right now … things have been a little bit wetter,” Domonkos said. “We’ve had some good (precipitation) in October, which helped, and that kind of took away some of the deficits that we had.”
According to National Weather Service records from the Dillon weather station, there was 8 inches of new snow in October, while 7.1 inches is normal for the month.
“But it certainly didn’t get us back to normal where we should be in terms of the drought,” Domonkos added.
The U.S. Drought Monitor uses a scale of drought intensity that ranges from D0, abnormally dry, to D4, exceptional drought. The monitor places the majority of Summit County in a D1 drought with the northwest portion in a D2 drought. This is a change from early October, when Summit County drought conditions ranged from D0 to D2, and early September when conditions ranged from no drought to D4.
While there have been some unseasonably warm days in Summit County this fall — there were 18 days above normal temperatures in October — Domonkos said melting isn’t much of a concern. He said there has been a minimal amount of melting that hasn’t been out of the ordinary.
Looking ahead, Treste Huse, senior hydrologist for the National Weather Service, said this water year “is looking better” for precipitation compared to previous years.
“We’re seeing more storms that are developing just west of the divide, sometimes spilling over into Larimer and Boulder counties a little bit,” Huse said, noting that this is typical of a La Nina year.
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November is a hit-or-miss snow month, and while this year’s weather wasn’t the best for ski season in Summit County, it also wasn’t the worst.