Snowpack/drought news: Colorado snowpack is the fourth lowest in 32 years #COdrought #COwx

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From Steamboat Today (Tom Ross):

The federal agency that helps to forecast water supplies in the Mountain West reported Jan. 4 that the Jan. 1 snowpack in Colorado was the fourth lowest in 32 years. That is in spite of the fact that precipitation in the Colorado Rockies was 112 percent of average for December. The statewide snowpack was just 70 percent of average as the new year began, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver. The water year begins Oct. 1, and although the upper Yampa Valley got slammed with piles of cold, dry snow beginning right before Christmas, it couldn’t make up for a dearth of moisture in October and November…

Locally, the snowpack is stronger than the state’s 70 percent of average, but it varies around the Yampa River Basin. The NRCS reports that the combined Yampa and White river basins (the White River drains the western end of the Flat Tops, which are visible from Steamboat) stood at 78 percent of average on Monday.

Steamboat Springs depends on snowmelt in the upper Fish Creek drainage for its domestic water supply as the spring runoff fills Fish Creek and Long Lake reservoirs. Jay Gallagher, general manager of the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District, said Monday that although he expects the storage in Fish Creek Reservoir (by far the larger of the two) to dip to 35 percent by April 1, he is confident the reservoir will fill this spring.

The Tower measuring site maintained by the NRCS on Buffalo Pass essentially represents the Fish Creek drainage, Gallagher said. The NRCS was reporting Monday that the snow water equivalent on Buffalo Pass stood at 67 percent of average with 13 inches of water…

The average snow water equivalent at the Tower site on April 1 is 45.8 inches, Gallagher added, and since 1965, there have been only two years (1977 and 1981) when there was less than 26 inches of snow water equivalent at the Tower site on April 1. Unusually low snow water equivalent years include: 1977, 25.4 inches; 1981, 23.8 inches; 2002, 28.4 inches; and 2012, 28.1 inches, according to Gallagher.

From KUNC (Grant Gerlock):

Farmers who raise winter wheat are already living rain to rain, or snow to snow. Winter wheat is normally planted around September and harvested in June. This time of year there should be a field of low, green grass as the young wheat goes through its winter dormancy. But the warm and dry fall caused a bit of a false start for the crop. Dan Hughes, who grows wheat in Chase and Perkins counties near the Colorado border in southwestern Nebraska, planted as deep into the dry soil as he could hoping the wheat could find moisture…

Greg Kruger, a cropping systems specialist at the University of Nebraska’s West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte, said in some places the wheat seed never even sprouted in the parched soil. “In our dryland farm it was zero germination,” Kruger said. “Certainly standing at field edge you’re not going to see anything.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 49 percent of Nebraska’s winter wheat crop is in poor or very poor condition. Seventy percent is poor or very poor in South Dakota. That number is 31 percent in Kansas, the nation’s top winter wheat state…

First, snowpack in the Rockies is normal, at best. “Normal” might sound good, but Michael Hayes at the Drought Mitigation Center said that’s not enough to refill diminished rivers and reservoirs. Without more snow, water disputes along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers could continue.

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