Drought continues in the Colorado River Basin
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — January 2012 will go down as one of the driest Januaries on record at the official National Weather Service site in town, where long-time observer Rick Bly measured just 6.55 inches of snow for the month.
Bly said that total was one of the five lowest January readings in the books. Going back more than 100 years, the average January snowfall in town is nearly two feet. The little bit of snow that did fall during the month was also excruciatingly dry. Bly said the snow-water equivalent was just 0.11 inches, compared to the historic average of 1.53 inches.
That means precipitation for the water year to-date (starting Oct. 1) is just 60 percent of average. Snowfall for the year to-date is also lagging well behind last year, at 43.85 inches. Normal for this time of year is 78 inches. Last winter, Bly had tallied 62 inches by this time of year.
It could be worse, Bly said, recalling that the during the big drought of the 1980-81 season, only about 24 inches of snow had fallen through the end of January.
Similarly dry conditions prevailed at Dillon, where weather watchers measured just 6 inches of snow in January, only about 30 percent of the historic average of 18.4 inches. The moisture content of that snow was just 0.41 inches, less than 40 percent of the average 1.80 inches.
There were two eight-day stretches with no measurable precipitation at the Dillon site and the biggest snowfall was on Jan. 11 with a pathetic 2 inches.
Temperatures at the Dillon site were below average for the month, with lows dropping below zero 17 times in the first 20 days of the month. But lows stayed above zero the last 10 days of January, and highs climbed all the way back to 50 degrees on Jan. 24, a near-record high for the day.
The best hope of getting out of the current drought conditions is for a super-wet February or a March miracle, which isn’t out of the question — the early 2000s drought was at least partly busted by a mid-March storm that dropped more than seven feet of snow on some parts of the Colorado mountains.
But an average February (23.5 inches in Breckenridge) wouldn’t even bring the snowpack back to normal, and have there’s no guarantee that late winter will deliver relief. The medium-term outlook from the federal Climate Prediction Center doesn’t show a trend toward above-average precipitation, and large-scale hemispheric circulation patterns lean more in the direction of continued dry conditions.