Drought news: Colorado is not out of the woods yet, despite recent snowfall #COdrought

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From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Don’t be fooled by all that cold snow covering the mountains overlooking the Grand Valley — the drought is still on.

“It’s going to help out with every flake we get,” said John Kyle, data acquisition program manager for the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service. “But the drought is a much longer period” than the snow-covered days of recent weeks.

The spate of snowstorms that covered western Colorado in recent days slowed, but hardly reversed, the dry trend of the last year.

“Snowstorms this time of year don’t add much moisture” to the overall amount of water that collects in the high country over the winter and spring, Chris Treese, spokesman for the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “At this point we’re really waiting for March and April to bring real content to the picture.”

The numbers so far bear that out, Kyle said.

As of Wednesday, the Grand Valley had seen 9.2 inches of snowfall so far this water year, which began in October, and the moisture total of a little more than 4 inches was the third driest on record.

For December so far, the valley has seen an accumulation of 0.97 of an inch of moisture.

Even though forecasts called for 6 to 14 inches of snow to fall in the high country, and 2 to 6 inches in the Grand Valley, through Wednesday night and this morning, the long-term outlook is less than bright.

Weather watchers had pinned some optimism on the development of an El Nino condition in the Pacific Ocean.

The El Nino pattern feeds moisture from warm waters into the weather pattern that dominates the west side of the Continental Divide, “but those warm waters just disappeared,” leaving behind no discernible weather pattern, Treese said. “There’s no nino so far.”

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Gary Harmon):

Snowfall in the West Elk and San Juan mountains has a long way to go before it begins making up for an arid 2012.

The snows that blanketed western Colorado “just kept us on an average accumulation track,” said Erik Knight, hydrologist with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation office in Grand Junction. “We didn’t really gain any ground back. Outside of a big change with the storm at the start of next week, I see December as an average snow accumulation month.”

For the entire Gunnison Basin, snowpack is about 73 percent of average, while on the Colorado River side, it’s about 72 percent of average, Knight said.

In the Upper Gunnison River Basin, the snowpack is 60 percent of average. The total is buoyed by high snowpack on Grand Mesa and the Uncompahgre Plateau, neither of which feeds into the major reservoirs the bureau operates on the Gunnison, including Blue Mesa. That reservoir, the state’s largest, was filled to 39 percent of capacity as of Thursday.

The higher snowpack on Grand Mesa stands to benefit water suppliers in the Grand Valley, Knight said.
Grand Junction officials will take their own measurements next week as the new year begins, said Rick Brinkman, water services manager.

“We expect good numbers on the west side,” but the question mark is the east side of the mesa, Brinkman said.
Two sites tracked by Ute Water Conservancy District show Mesa Lakes at 84 percent of average and Park Reservoir, farther east, at 79 percent of average.

On the Colorado River side, where snowpack was reported to be 72 percent of average, the reporting sites tend not to be those over reservoirs, Knight said.

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott) via The Durango Herald:

“It’s not quite good enough to pull us out of the drought, but at least (it’s) bringing temporary relief and optimism,” State Climatologist Nolan Doesken said.

Snow levels were as low as 40 percent of average earlier this month in the state’s eight major river basins.

On Thursday, the levels ranged from a low of 63 percent of average in the Arkansas River Basin to 85 percent in the Yampa and White river basins.

“While those numbers aren’t great, they’re a big improvement over 2½ weeks ago,” Doesken said.

A Christmas Eve storm brought widespread snow to Colorado, including 20 inches on some parts of Grand Mesa in western Colorado.

On Thursday, Wolf Creek Ski Area reported 11 inches of new snow from another storm. Steamboat Springs reported 9 inches of new snow Thursday, and Winter Park reported 8 inches.

Doesken said the forecast for the first part of 2013 doesn’t include much moisture, and the longer-range outlook is uncertain…

“It doesn’t bode snowy, it doesn’t bode drought. It doesn’t bode average, either. It just bodes ‘We don’t know,’” he said.

From ACCUWeather (Jillian Macmath):

Following a year of severe drought across the United States, the precipitation from winter 2013 may not be enough to eradicate dry conditions and return the water supply to normal levels.

The snow cover compared to last year on this date for the contiguous U.S., is significantly wider: approximately 65 percent versus last year’s 25 percent.

The highest percentage of snow coverage in any month last year just barely reached 48 percent.

But despite the seemingly wide coverage right now and talk of more snow to come, the U.S., will not be quick to recover.

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