Drought news: 2012 — Colorado’s second-warmest year on record #CODrought

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From KUNC (Nathan Heffel):

Normally you would need a paddle to get to the middle of Horestooth Reservoir just west of Fort Collins. Right now you can almost walk there; the reservoir is only 40 percent full.

Horsetooth isn’t alone. Reservoir levels are dwindling around the state and Colorado’s water managers are hoping for good to average snowfall this season to replenish them. Forecast models are still unclear as to how much snow may fall. With drought conditions likely to last into early 2013, water managers in Northern Colorado remain cautiously optimistic…

Early data released November 4th shows reservoirs statewide at 43 percent capacity. Normally they should be at 61 percent. Despite the seemingly dire levels at Horsetooth, Northern Colorado’s supply going into next year remains in better shape than during 2002’s massive drought…

The forecast models aren’t looking that good to state climatologist Nolen Doesken. “In terms of what these next few months will hold, the weather patterns haven’t shed their clues very well.”

Doesken says an average winter would go a long way in bringing reservoir levels back to normal in Northern Colorado. There’s a bit of a caveat as you would imagine.

“What happens in the spring has such a bearing on our situation. And this past spring, 2012, we saw that in action when the springs storms fail to materialize. Because its spring storms at lower elevations that replenish soil moisture and get the vegetation off to a good start which will reduce the need for spring irrigation. And it won’t put that pressure on the reservoirs.”[...]

There are thousands of reservoirs around the state and all need mountain snow and the subsequent spring runoff to be replenished. Northern Water is confident they can deliver to their roughly 850,000 customers in 2013, partly due to contingency plans and its massive infrastructure for obtaining water.

“Roughly a quarter to a third of the total water supply in northeastern Colorado comes from the west slope through the Colorado Big Thompson Project system. And again, that water is coming from 150, 200 miles away to get into a tap in a school in Greeley or in Loveland or Longmont or Boulder or pick any one of the other 33 cities that get water from the project.”[...]

And that has water managers, not only dreaming of a white Christmas – but of a white January, February and March too.

From 9News.com (Matt Renoux):

“The jet stream is supposed to be changing. That’s going to produce some snow. Sunday or Monday we may see a change. It can’t keep going north all winter long,” [Dillon Marina, manager Bob Evans] said. Dillon Reservoir has seen worse. In 2003, it was 55 feet down and was still filled thanks to heavy spring snow storms.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Dennis Darrow):

Long-range weather forecasts leave Greg Ralph hopeful that Colorado will not endure a second straight winter of dry skiing conditions. Still, the state’s ski resort operators are nervous, he says. “It’s almost like this year picked up where last year. It’s awful,” said Ralph, the veteran marketing director at Monarch Mountain ski resort near Salida.

If a repeat of last year’s season-long dry spell took place, “you would see some resorts in financial straits,” Ralph says. Also, some rental shops and ski industry suppliers could be in trouble, he said.

Monarch now hopes to open by Dec. 14, its latest start date in at least the past 15 years, Ralph said. Over the past eight years since he’s been with the resort, the latest opening date was Dec. 8. In three of those years, the resort was able to open as early as Thanksgiving weekend, he said.

In an encouraging sign, forecasts show that the dry conditions may “loosen up” by mid-December and the area’s weather will exhibit a more normal winter pattern through January and February, he said. Still, it’s a difficult time for Colorado resorts. Even though it’s still early in the season, resorts likely are losing bookings for the critical Christmas break period, he said.

“In our business, snow trumps all. I can try every marketing trick in the world but it’s really snow that gets people here,” Ralph said.

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