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Colorado snowpack inches upward in March

Some drought-hit areas stay dry

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Summit County, western Eagle County and parts of Colorado’s northeastern plains saw well above-average precipitation in March, but much of the rest of the state was very dry.

Drought conditions persist at some level across all of Colorado as of late March.

Drought conditions persist at some level across all of Colorado as of late March.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Colorado’s snowpack continues to inch upward and recently passed last year’s level, but the state’s water woes aren’t over, according to the results of the latest Natural Resources Conservation Service snow survey.

The good news is that the snowpack hasn’t quite peaked yet, according to the April 1 compilation of statistics from automated SNOTEL sites and manual survey results. The bad news is that soil moisture in many parts of the state is still at drought levels, and reservoir levels are well below average and lagging behind last year.

While March snowfall was above average in some parts of Colorado, the statewide snowpack increased by only one percent during the month, from 73 percent of median on March 1, to 74 percent of median on April 1.

Most major basins saw slight improvements to snowpack percentages with the exception of the southwestern mountains, where the Gunnison, Upper Rio Grande and the combined San Miguel, Animas, Dolores, and San Juan basins had declines of 3, 11 and 12 percentage points respectively. The southwestern basins probably have already reached their peak snowpack for this year and are headed into the melt phase.

In the Yampa and White River basins, the snowpack increased from 75 percent of median last month to 78 percent as of April 1. The Colorado River basin’s snowpack increased from 70 percent to 74 percent of the median. The South Platte and North Platte River basins’ snowpack’s both increased by 6 percentage points and the Arkansas River basin had an increase of 3 percentage points.

In a typical winter the state receives around 20 percent of its seasonal snow accumulation during March. This winter however, March precipitation recorded at SNOTEL sites was well below normal with the exception of the South Platte and Colorado River basins. With April 8, the average date the snowpack reaches its peak in this state, less than a week away; there is almost no chance that the snowpack will reach normal conditions before beginning to melt.

Reservoir storage remains well below average statewide and all major basins in Colorado are expected to see below average streamflow runoff this spring and summer.

Basin Snowpack
% of Median
Snowpack
% of Last Year
Reservoir Storage
% of Average
Reservoir Storage
% of Last Year
Gunnison 71 116 76 63
Colorado 74 143 66 55
South Platte 69 114 84* 82*
North Platte 81 129
Yampa/White 78 152 105 82
Arkansas 74 122 55 64
Rio Grande 67 123 54 74
San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan 71 121 68 61
Statewide 74 130 71 66

*Basin average is missing multiple reservoirs and considered preliminary.

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2 Responses

  1. [...] Another story about the Colorado snowpack used charts and graphs to help illustrate the state’s ongoing drought conditions. Although parts of the high country did get some decent snows in March, it wasn’t nearly enough to alleviate overall drought conditions. In a typical winter, March accounts for 20 percent of the seasonal snow accumulation, but this year’s March snowfall was well below normal at most SNOTEL sites, with the exception of the South Platte and Colorado River basins. Read the story here. [...]

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