Snowpack/drought news: San Miguel, Animas, Dolores, San Juan slightly ahead of last year #codrought #cowx

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Click on the thumbnail graphics for the current statewide snowpack map and the latest U.S. Drought Monitor Map. The storms over the weekend are not reflected in the snowpack map. There may be an update today from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Individually, the San Juan and Dolores watersheds were showing average snowpack yesterday.

From The Telluride Daily Planet (Collin McRann):

As of Feb. 1, the snowpack in the San Juan/Animas/Dolores and San Miguel basins of southwestern Colorado was around 88 percent of normal. While snow levels might not be drastically far from average, state hydrologists say a significant amount of new snow would be needed to end the ongoing drought. The next two months will be crucial in terms of snowfall because a full third of yearly snowfall in Colorado typically falls between January and March.

“We really just have February and March left — during those months we receive around 20 percent of the snowpack, and so to recover in that amount of time could be difficult,” said Mage Hultstrand, assistant snow supervisor with the Colorado Snow Survey. “The snow we received [in late January] is really good, but we still have a ways to go to reach average conditions. After last year’s below average [snowpack], the storage in our reservoirs has dropped significantly. So this is kind of a vital year in terms of replenishing those.”

This year’s snowpack is slightly higher than it was in early February last year, according to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Both this year and last year’s snowpack are far below the previous two years, which saw above average snowfall…

Last year, a month-long string of storms gave the snowpack a boost in February, but the skies dried up in March and snowpack hit a plateau. Warm, dry temperatures that followed in the spring led to rapid melting, and by June 1 the snowpack was completely gone. Snowpack in the mountains typically hangs on until July.

Data from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows that all of San Miguel County is classified as experiencing severe drought — which has been unchanged since last summer.

Snowfall data shows there was little or no snowpack in the region until mid-November, and the next major storm did not blow in until mid-December. However, since then the snowpack has grown steadily.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ryan Maye Handy):

At Monday’s informal Colorado Springs City Council meeting, Utilities will propose a plan to help the city grapple with the persistent drought that, it believes, will continue to plague Colorado into the summer months. Utilities will present water restriction guidelines to council, along with an overview of the drought and water situation in El Paso County and suggestions on how to get residents to cut down on water use. If the plans are eventually adopted by the council, the water restrictions should go into effect on April 1. Utilities officials are seeking approval in early March.

“We have been here before,” said Utilities spokeswoman Patrice Lehermeier on Friday. “It was not as drastic as we are now seeing.”

The phenomenal amount of snowfall and precipitation in 2011 carried Colorado through 2012 without water restrictions being imposed in El Paso County, said Lehermeier. But, the reserve moisture and water that allowed Colorado Springs homeowners to water their lawns regularly last summeris no longer there. Instead, the city has started 2013 in greater need of precipitation.

To balance the unusually high amount of water used in Colorado Springs last summer — and to create a decent reserve of water for public safety concerns, such as firefighting — Utilities has come up with two main alternatives for homeowners. Starting on April 1, pending council approval, restrictions may include two day or three day per week watering restrictions, or a drought surcharge for those whose water use surpasses the restrictions.

Last summer, the city consumed the highest amount of water — 28.7 billion gallons — since 2001, Utilities statistics show. In 2012, the average annual temperature was the highest it had been since 1895…

Colorado is among a handful of Western states that could be hard-hit by the dwindling water supply this year, according to January stream flow forecasts from the Natural Resource Conservation Service. January got off to slow start, precipitation-wise, and snowpack levels are the fourth lowest they have been in 32 years, according to the report updated monthly.

From The Mountain Mail (Joe Stone):

Arkansas River basin snowpack ended January at 63 percent of average, second lowest among Colorado river basins. Only the South Platte basin recorded a lower snowpack percentage, 54 percent, according to data compiled by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From the Leadville Herald-Democrat (Marcia Martinek):

Some unusual weather in January was noted by Charles Kuster, the Herald’s weather guru, starting with a string of low daily minimum temperatures. Between Dec. 28, 2012, and Jan. 22, 2013, there were 26 days in a row when the low daily minimum temperatures were below zero, Kuster said. This was the second-longest stretch in his 29 years here charting weather statistics. The longest was between Jan. 10 and Feb. 7, 2008, when there was a 29-day stretch. The winter of 2007-2008 had 82 days when the temperature was zero or lower; the average here is about 60 days.

For seven days in a row, Dec. 28, 2012, to Jan. 3, the minimum lows were -10 degrees Fahrenheit or lower, setting a record, according to Kuster. The lowest temperature experienced here in an average year is -22 to -26 below zero although this is actually around -20 for those who live within Leadville city limits, Kuster said. He lives in Lake County.

Snow measured 8.9 inches in January, Kuster said. The average snowfall for January is 17 inches, so we’re at about 50 percent of normal. “When a year starts with an El Niño, there’s never normal snowfall,” Kuster said. His unofficial prediction is for below normal precipitation in February, March and April.

“I’m hoping I’m wrong,” he said.

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