Snowpack/drought news: South Platte Basin snowpack = 74% of median value, Upper Colorado = 72% #COdrought

usdroughtmonitor12252012.jpg

Click on the thumbnail graphic for the current U.S. Drought Monitor map.

Here’s the Colorado SNOTEL Snow/Precipitation Update Report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Snowpack by basin as a percentage of the daily median: Gunnison River Basin = 75%; Upper Colorado River Basin = 72%; South Platte River Basin = 74%; Laramie and North Platte River Basins = 82%; Yampa and White River Basins = 87%; Arkansas River Basin = 64%; Upper Rio Grande Basin = 66%; San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan River Basins = 72%.

From Radio Colorado College (Andrea Chalfin):

Rob White, park manager at the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area in Salida, says a good snow year is critical for the river, and those who depend on water. While the current flow of the river is about average, during the summer, White says portions of the popular rafting destination were barely boatable.

“In an extremely dry year like we had in 2012, there wasn’t enough water to go around. Obviously, there wasn’t enough water for the farmers, there wasn’t enough water for the irrigators, so we also had to make do with a smaller amount of water.”

Typically the snow to water equivalency in the Arkansas River basin approaches around 5 inches by mid-December. Right now it’s only 57% of average. With so much riding on this year’s snow pack – the numbers are disturbing for farmers downstream who depend on the river for irrigation.

Mike Bartolo, Colorado State University Research Manager in Rocky Ford, says farmers make plans based on snowpack and water.

“So you try to know how much fertilizer you need to order, or how much seed you need to order, but you really don’t know because it’s so tentative.”

2012 got off to a promising start along the Arkansas River – but things gradually got worse. A lack of rainfall didn’t help the alfalfa and corn crops that are predominant here—one gauge in Rocky Ford shows less than 5 inches of total precipitation…

“A lot can happen between now and May 15th when we start to experience runoff. I think what’s really important is that we get those snowstorms that we typically get in the spring months.“

Despite the optimism, a recent seasonal outlook from the Climate Prediction Center at the National Weather Service says drought conditions are likely to persist or even intensify through next March.

From the Summit Daily News (Caddie Nath):

“We’re still early in the snowpack season,” National Weather Service hydrologist Treste Huse said. “A lot can change before the end of the year. It’s still not where we want to see it, but it has definitely improved.”[...]

Snowpack, while improving, is still only 71 percent of average in the Upper Colorado River Basin, levels in the once-brimming Dillon Reservoir are below normal for this time of year and a bout of dry weather may be on the horizon for northern Colorado and much of the country, according to the National Weather Service…

Dillon Reservoir was approximately 70 percent full last week, but has historically been 93 percent full on average at this time of year. Denver Water’s total system is running at approximately 63 percent full, compared to a past median of 83 percent…

Wave after wave of winter weather through the better part of December has certainly helped, Huse said. The snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin has nearly doubled from just 38 percent of average on Dec. 6 and is ahead of last year, when snow pack had only reached 67 percent of average with a meager 4 inches of snow dusting Breckenridge over the course of the last month of 2011.

Recent storms have delivered more than a dozen inches to Summit County during the month of December, but the consistent snowfall may be winding down at least for the next few weeks, according to NWS projections.

From The Durango Herald (Ann Butler):

The snow couldn’t have come at a better time for area ski resorts, which need to capitalize on holiday travelers to help make their financial year. DMR reported 28 inches of snow midway Wednesday morning, with 6 inches of new snow in the previous 48 hours. Wolf Creek Ski Area reported 40 inches midway Wednesday, with 4 new inches in the previous 48 hours, and Telluride Ski Resort said it had received 7 inches of snow in the previous 48 hours, with the snow depth at the base at 24 inches…

Three storms in two weeks by no means signifies the drought is over. The snowpack for the Animas, San Juan, Dolores and San Miguel river basins is currently at 57 percent of average for the year according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

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