Colorado starts 2016 with healthy snowpack

Will the storm door stay open?

snowpack mapStaff Report

El Niño has been generous to Colorado this winter, favoring all of the state with near- to above-normal precipitation since the beginning of winter. As of Jan.1, nearly all the state’s river basins were above average, with only the North Platte and the Yampa drainages lagging slightly below normal.

Some past El Nino events have been known to leave the northern half of the state high and dry.

“Statewide snowpack is 118 percent of normal, considerably better than last year’s start” said Brian Domonkos, Colorado Snow Survey Supervisor with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

In a typical year about 20 percent of the seasonal snowpack has accumulated to this point, a substantial portion of the accumulation season.

“With a sizable chunk of the winter already behind us, this is a good starting point, however more than half of the winter remains,” Domonkos said, adding that last year’s variations in precipitation shows how the picture can change from month to month.

After near-normal conditions on January 1, 2015, dry conditions prevailed for a couple of months until wet storms in late February and March brought relief. Late March and April — normally the wettest part of the winter — were dry last year, but May produced nearly 250 percent of average precipitation statewide.

Of the 97 automated SNOTEL sites with available data, only 13 indicate snowpack is not quite up to 100 percent of normal. This does not equate to a poor start as these sites are sparse and scattered around the state.

So far for the current water year, statewide precipitation was 97 percent of normal in October, 114 percent in November and 128 percent in December.

Statewide reservoir storage is 110 percent of normal where the only basin with below average total storage in the state are the combined reservoirs of the Upper Rio Grande.

While it is still early in the water supply game, streamflow forecasts are projected to be near normal for spring runoff season ranging from 80 percent of normal on the Little Snake River near Dixon to as high as 123 percent of normal Ute Creek near Ft. Garland. Snowpack is off to the best start since January 1, 2011, and the ninth best start since 1982.

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