Colorado water year off to one of the worst starts on record

This year’s snowpack (orange) is lagging behind last winter and hovering close to the all-time record low.

November snowfall pitiful in Summit County

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — The first two months (October and November) of the 2013 water year have been among the driest on record in Breckenridge, where weather observer Rick Bly tracks precipitation on a daily basis, adding to a data set that goes back more than 100 years.

Bly tallied just four inches of snowfall in November, only about 20 percent of the 20.9 inches that’s average for the month. That snow melted down to just .26 inches of water, compare to the average 1.5 inches for the month.

The historic average snowfall for October and November combined is about 33 inches. This year Bly has measured just 12 inches, less than about 64 percent below the average. Less than 1 inch of moisture has accumulated for the year to-date.

“I’ve been looking through the worst of the worst,” Bly said, explaining that was looking for similarly dry years. What he found is that, so far this year is tracking even behind 1980-81, when the entire season brought only 57 inches. In that winter, October and November snowfall total 15.4 inches.

“So we’re below the worst year ever so far,” he said, adding that odds favor continued dry conditions after a dry early season. That doesn’t mean it’s a sure thing — there have been other seasons that started dry and turned wet in the heart of winter, but all things being equal, there’s not much reason to believe that the winter will bring significant drought relief.

Average snowfall for December in Breckenridge is 22.5 inches, but what we could really use is a winter like 1983, which set an all-time record with 86.9 inches in town. The driest December on record was 1911, with just 2.7 inches of snow.

The stats are similar in Dillon, where Denver Water tracks precipitation and temperatures on a daily basis, with records going back to 1909. In November, the observers measured just 2 inches of snow (o.2 inches of precipitation), about 20 percent of the historic average. There was measurable snow on only three days, Nov. 10, 11 and 12.

Temperatures at Dillon reaches the 50s on 15 days during November and climbed above freezing on all but three days, with the average daily high setting a new November record at 47.3 degrees, almost 7 degrees above the historic average and closer to the average temperature for April.

Nighttime lows were also well above average, with readings climbing into the teens and 20s for most of the month. As a result, the average minimum temperature was 13.7 degrees, which is 3 degrees above the historic average.

Statewide numbers reflect the Summit Country readings, with the snowpack actually shrinking during the month at many SNOTEL sites, dropping to about 40 percent of average at the end of the month.

Many of the state’s rivers and streams are flowing near historic lows, with streams farther west especially hard-hit, according to Ken Neubecker, director of the Western Rivers Institute. Attending a water conservation roundtable in Silverthorne, Neubecker said Monday that Pitkin County streams like the Crystal River and the Roaring Fork have all reached historic low flows for this time of year.

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