Snowpack Levels Improve But Still ‘Playing Catch-up’
by Gus Jarvis
Mar 01, 2012 | 3451 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
<b>NEEDED PRECIPITATION</b> – Snow and wind left a thick drift on the roof of Guiseppe’s restaurant atop Lift 9 in Telluride this week. More snow and wind is in the forecast, making for increased avalanche danger. (Photo by Brett Schreckengost)
NEEDED PRECIPITATION – Snow and wind left a thick drift on the roof of Guiseppe’s restaurant atop Lift 9 in Telluride this week. More snow and wind is in the forecast, making for increased avalanche danger. (Photo by Brett Schreckengost)
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WESTERN SAN JUANS – As snow continues to fly across Colorado on a steady basis, bringing a sense of winter normalcy back to most areas, state snowpack levels have improved. But to realize an average end-of-season snowpack after a dismally dry start to the season, March needs to be a very, very snowy month.

“If you look where the statewide snowpack totals are right now, we are where we typically should be on February first. As snowpack levels go, we are kind of a month behind,” said Natural Resources Conservation Service Snow Survey Supervisor Mage Skordahl on Monday. “Currently we are at 77 percent average statewide, which is an improvement from 72 percent at the beginning of February. The percent of average snowfall needed next month (to get to 100 percent average) is 178 percent of average. We are still playing catch-up.”

After a high pressure ridge kept most of Colorado relatively dry in December and for the first part of January, the Pacific jet stream finally shifted southward and positioned itself over southern Wyoming and northern and Central Colorado, bringing precipitation to basins to the west of the Continental Divide. Relatively speaking, Colorado’s southern mountains had a better start to the winter than the central and northern Mountains. But as a typical La Nina precipitation and snowfall pattern returned to Colorado in January, the southern basins saw a significant decrease in precipitation.

That trend didn’t last long though, as February, which is typically a drier month, proved to be a snowy month statewide, including the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins.

“The storm tracks changed and dropped lower at the end of January and the first part of February,” Skordahl said. “It was very good news for those basins. As of today, we are at 77 percent of average. That’s a four-point percentage improvement from the beginning of February. That increase occurred in most basins across the state.”

In February, the Gunnison River Basin saw an increase in snowpack from 72 to 74 percent, the Upper Colorado River Basin jumped from 69 to 85 percent, and the Arkansas River Basin increased from 81 to 84 percent.

“It was so dry in December and early January that we really have to have well above average precipitation conditions to reach our April 1 average,” Skordahl said. “I am not really sure how likely it is at this point. We still have March. That’s when the state receives about 20 percent of its annual snowpack. We only have a month to reach our normal levels.”

National Weather Service Meteorologist Mike Chamberlain said the weather continues to be a typical La Nina pattern over the Northern Hemisphere, bringing “storm after storm” from the north and northwest. Looking at the long range forecast though, he said March precipitation numbers could be below average.

“Right now the forecast shows that temperatures will be slightly above normal and precipitation slightly below normal,” Chamberlain said. “But there’s lots of variability to that. March could end up being one of the wettest on record, we don’t know. Two or three really big storms could bring the precipitation that’s needed.”

gjarvis@watchnewspapers.com or @gusgusj

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