Breckenridge snowfall above average once again; statewide snowpack at 115 percent of normal
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Although the end of February snowpack readings as a percent of average dwindled for the second month in a row across western Colorado, the state as a whole can probably expect average to above-average runoff in spring, according to the latest figures released by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The statewide snowpack is at 115 percent of average, and February storms boosted snowpack totals in the state’s southern river basins to near normal for this time of year, especially in Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Rio Grande Basin, where the March 1 snowpack was at 88 percent of average, the lowest reading in the state.
The March 1 anowpack in the Colorado River Basin was at 128 percent of normal, near the level it’s been at all year, and local weather watcher Rick Bly reported above-normal precipitation total for February to add to that total. For the month, Bly tallied 26.3 inches of snow, 11 percent more than the historic average of 23.5 inches. Melted, that snow added up to 1.85 inches of water, about 8 percent above the average 1.71 inches for the month.
For the year-to-date, total snowfall at Bly’s Breckenridge weather station is 136.1 inches, well above the year-to-date average of 101.5 inches and surpassing last year’s total winter snowfall of about 126 inches — but far from any records. As recently as 1995-96, 220 inches of snow had piled up in Breckenridge by March 1.
The snowpack water-equivalent for the year-to-date at Bly’s gauge is 11.15 inches, a whopping 41 percent above the historic average of 7.52 inches.
And that’s with the snowiest month yet to come, Bly said, adding that March has historically been reliable for steady snowfall, even in many otherwise dry years. The average snowfall for March is 25.52 inches and the biggest March on record was in 1899, with 120.4 inches — that was the winter that Breckenridge residents had to tunnel their way down Main Street.
In the modern era, one of the biggest Front Range storms on record spilled over the Continental Divide to deliver 47.5 inches in March 2003. That was the storm that began on St. Patrick’s Day and dropped more than 80 inches on Evergreen, triggering avalanches near Georgetown and shutting down I-70 for several days.
The driest March on record was in 1962, with only 4 inches of snow, Bly said.
But a string of exceedingly cold days early in the month brought the average temperature readings down to well below normal for the month. The average daily high was 27.3 degrees, almost 7 degrees below the average of 34.1 degrees. The average daily low temperature at Dillon was minus 1.2 degrees, which is about 2 degrees colder than the historic average.
The coldest readings of the month — and the winter — were on February 2 and Feburary 3, at minus 32 degrees. On February 9 and February 10 the lows again dropped to well below zero, then started to show a typical late winter warming trend, with highs climbing all the way to 50 degrees on February 15 and 16, the warmest readings of the month.
Daily highs climbed above freezing only 11 times, while lows dropped below zero on 11 nights during the month.
Statewide, the outlook for water supplies remains good to excellent across the Yampa, Colorado, South Platte Gunnison and Arkansas headwaters.
“About the only basins likely to see below average runoff this year are the Rio Grande, the southern tributaries of the Arkansas River, and the southwestern basins”, said NRCS state conservationist Allen Green. Reservoir storage in those basins is above average, which should help offset the lower snowpack readings, he added.