Snowpack above average statewide in Colorado

So far, the snow gods are smiling on Colorado this season

Dillon Reservoir froze over completely on Jan. 1, 2011, about a week later than the average date.

For the first time this winter, snowpack is above average in every river basin in Colorado.

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — For the first time this winter, early January readings showed an above average snowpack for all of Colorado, including the southern mountains that were shut out by early season storms. The statewide snowpack as of Jan. 3 was 134 percent of average.

Both Summit County weather stations reported above normal snowfall for December, with the year-to-date readings (October – December) about 25 percent above average in Breckenridge, according weather watcher Rick Bly. The three-month total snowfall is 69.8 inches, ranking it as the 14th snowiest start to the winter season in 120 years.

For December 2010, Bly measured 32.5 inches of snow on his backyard gauge, about 45 percent above the average 22.4 inches. That total left December 2010 just one spot shy of cracking the top-20 snowiest Decembers in the 120-year record.

The all-time record for that three-month period was 149.8 inches, way back in 1893. The second-snowiest October – December period was 1983, with 166.8 inches, nearly double this year’s total.

Since the wind can affect the measurement of snowfall totals, weather observers also measure how much water the snow contains. That measurement, quantified as precipitation, is also critical for long-term water supplies, since most of the state’s water is stored as winter snowfall. For the year so far, Bly’s weather station shows 6.7 inches from water, well above the average 4.28 inches.

January’s average snowfall is exactly the same as December’s — 22.4 inches, with about 1.5 inches of water. The snowiest January on record brought 80.2 inches in 1899. The driest January on record was 1966, with just 3 inches of snow. One of the biggest January’s in recent times was 1996, delivering 71.8 inches of snow.

The mid-December weather pattern that brought subtropical moisture to the state zeroed in on the Gunnison Basin, where the snowpack climbed to 155 percent of average as of Jan. 3. The automated SNOTEL site in that area at Schofield Pass is registering a 94-inch snowpack. Click here to visit an interactive SNOTEL map.


At the Denver Water office in Dillon, the official snow reading was 23 inches for December, with measurable precipitation on 13 days. The Dillon station also showed temperature readings that were well above average for the month. The average daily high temp is 32.6 degrees, but this year, the daily high averaged 34.9 degrees. December’s daily low temps averaged to 10.5 degrees, more than 9.3 degrees above the long-term average.

The warmest day of the month was Dec. 23, with a high of 47 degrees. The coldest reading, minus 8 degrees, came on the very last day of the month. Temperatures only dipped below zero three times, and the nightly lows stayed at or above freezing six times during the month.

The moisture-laden pineapple connection that brought mid-month snows zeroed in on the central part of the state, where the Gunnison Basin snowpack is now at 155 percent of average.

Even the Upper Rio Grande Basin, in south-central Colorado, is now at a 106 percent of normal after lagging near 60 percent for much of the autumn. The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan Basin, in the Four Corners area, is up to 136 percent of average and the Colorado Basin is at 143 percent.


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