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Colorado: February storms fail to boost snowpack

Wet March needed to ease drought

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None of Colorado’s river basins have reached average snowpack levels this winter.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — It’s been a tale of two winters in Colorado, where enough snow has fallen at just the right times to prevent a complete meltdown of the ski industry, but not nearly enough to recover from last year’s drought.

“Unless Colorado sees weather patterns in March that bring well above average snowfall and precipitation to the state, there will not be much relief from the current drought conditions,” the USDA natural resources conservation service wrote in its monthly snowpack update.

February delivered close to average precipitation in some parts of the state, but snowpack totals increased only nominally, and not even close to normal. More worrisome for the long-term is the well-below average reservoir storage, now only 71 percent of average for this time of year.

As of March 1, the state snowpack was 73 percent of average and still lagging behind last year, according to Phyllis Ann Philipps, Colorado state conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Colorado’s snowpack has tracked below the long-term normal for three consecutive months with miniscule fluctuations (it was 71 percent of normal on January 1 and 71 percent of normal February 1).

Early March storms bumped the totals up another few percentage points, with the statewide snowpack climbing to 77 percent of average as of March 5.

Some of the state’s river basins even saw snowpack decline, including the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins where the March 1 snowpack dropped 5 percentage points from last month, to 83 percent of normal as of March 1.

In the Rio Grande basin the snowpack increased from 78 percent of average last month, to 79 percent of average as of March 1. The Arkansas basin also showed a gain in snowpack percentage, increasing from 63 percent on February 1 to 71 percent on March 1. The largest increase, as a percent of normal, from last month’s report was recorded in the South Platte basin; as of February 1 the snowpack in this basin was at just 54 percent of normal, as of March 1 the basin’s snowpack had increased to 63 percent of normal.

The data collected during the March 1 snow surveys directly reflects what the state can expect for surface water supplies this coming spring and summer. The most recent streamflow forecasts continue to point towards well below normal volumes for this spring and summer in all the major river basins in Colorado.

Basin Snowpack
% of Average
Snowpack
% of Last Year
Reservoir Storage
% of Average
Reservoir Storage
% of Last Year
Gunnison 74 87 77 69
Colorado 70 86 66 57
South Platte 63 62 82 78
North Platte 76 87
Yampa/White 76 95 106 85
Arkansas 71 79 55 62
Rio Grande 79 91 53 78
San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan 83 89 67 64
Statewide 73 83 71 67
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