Colorado: Dry January worsens drought woes

Bare ground above 9,000 feet in early February is not good news for Colorado’s water situation.

Statewide snowpack 30 percent below seasonal average

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Despite some late-January storms, snowpack in the Colorado River Basin continues to lag behind last year and is 30 percent below average for this time of year, according to the latest tally from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Colorado’s southwestern mountains benefited the most from the January precipitation, with snowpack in the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins climbing to 88 percent of normal; up from 70 percent of normal measured on January 1.

In the Rio Grande basin the snowpack jumped 13 percentage points this past month, to 78 percent of normal as of February 1. The Arkansas basin also showed overall gains in snowpack percentage, increasing from 61 percent on January 1 to 63 percent on February 1.

The month’s long-term weather pattern was dominated by high pressure systems that blocked storms from moving through the state. Close to the end of the month, some locations — including Breckenridge — were tracking toward their driest January on record. The snow at the end of the month boosted the snowfall total from the very bottom, but the monthly total was still one of the all-time five lowest in the Summit County town.

As of February 1, the statewide snowpack was at 72 percent of normal and 90 percent of last year’s readings at this same time. The statewide snowpack percentage has remained nearly constant for two consecutive months.

In the northern mountains, the snowpack percentages remain constant or declined during January. The largest departure, as a percent of normal, from last month’s report was reported in the South Platte basin which dropped 13 percentage points. As of February 1 the snowpack in this basin was at just 54 percent of normal, the lowest, as a percent of normal, in the state.

This recent snowpack data directly reflects what the state can expect for surface water supplies this coming spring and summer. Current streamflow forecasts continue to point towards well below normal runoff volumes in all the major river basins in Colorado. Adding to this bleak water supply outlook, reservoir storage across the state remains below average.

Unless Colorado sees weather patterns that bring above average snowfall and precipitation to the state over these next few months, it is not likely that there will be much relief from the current drought conditions, officials said.

Basin Snowpack
% of Average
% of Last Year
Reservoir Storage
% of Average
Reservoir Storage
% of Last Year
Gunnison 75 96 72 61
Colorado 67 89 67 59
South Platte 54 58 82 67
North Platte 71 94
Yampa/White 77 115 103 85
Arkansas 63 72 57 64
Rio Grande 78 98 51 78
San Miguel, Dolores, Animas & San Juan 88 112 66 63
Statewide 72 90 70 63

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