Summit County snowpack above average |

Summit County snowpack above average

As of mid-December, the Colorado River Basin snowpack is up more than 67 percent compared to last year, information from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Division shows.

Compared to average figures for the basin, which includes the Blue River watershed and extends to western Colorado, the snowpack is up about 25 percent above average for this time of year.

For all SNOTEL sites in Summit County (areas where the division has automatic snow survey equipment installed), last year’s mid-December snowpack was well below average, but this year the situation has reversed. Copper Mountain’s SNOTEL average is to have snow with the liquid equivalent of 4 inches. As of Dec. 13, the snow water equivalent is at 7.4 inches.

“The areas that are above average for snow water equivalent are in good condition” in relation to drought, the division’s Colorado spokesman Mike Gillespie said.

He explained that by this time of year, about a third of the snow should have fallen for the season in the Colorado River Basin.

So, the Summit County snowpack is good news for the area, but down south there are already some drought concerns.

Gillespie said the Upper Rio Grande Basin is at 43 percent of average and the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River basins are at 71 percent of average.

“The more the dry conditions persist, the harder it will be to overcome it,” Gillespie said.

The southern to northern snowpack comparison is a result of La Nina weather patterns this year, he added. In El Nino years, such as last year, storms swing south and avoid central and northern mountains.

“The long-range weather forecast is below average precipitation and above average temperatures” persisting throughout the winter in southern Colorado, Gillespie said.

As far as Summit County’s precipitation levels since the beginning of the water year on Oct. 1, Gillespie said the area is in “excellent shape.”

In particular, having 172 percent of average precipitation in the basin as of Nov. 1 indicates the soil was saturated as it froze, meaning most of the season’s snowfall with turn into runoff instead of being absorbed into the ground when spring rolls around.

More detailed information specific to the Blue River Basin becomes available when the Natural Resources Conservation Service begins gathering regular data on Jan. 1.

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