Steamboat Springs When March skipped out like a lamb last week, there was something missing on Buffalo Pass.
The pass, just northeast of Steamboat Springs, and above 10,000 feet on the Continental Divide, typically gets some of the highest snow totals in the state. This year, it's missing 3 feet of snow on the ground.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service reported that on April 1, the snow survey released by his agency reflects that Buffalo Pass has an accumulated snow depth of 103 inches. That compares to 139 inches last year on the same date. Even more critical than snow depth is the amount of water stored in that snow. The data gathered locally by Pat Davey of the conservation service is of interest to downstream municipal and agricultural water users as far away as Arizona and California.
The 20-year average for water content at Buffalo Pass on April 1 is 45.4 inches. Currently, the amount of water in the snow on Buffalo Pass measures 39.3 inches, or 87 percent of normal. That compares to 52.6 inches last year at this time, according to Davey's report.
Davey said that in early March, it was beginning to look like the region's snowpack would decline even further. He half expected the snowpack to be even lower when he visited Buffalo Pass late last month.
"I think we were losing it fast, it would have been a little shaky," Davey said. "But toward the end of the month we got a couple of storms and I think we held even."
Further south in Routt County, near the headwaters of the Yampa River, the snowpack is much closer to normal.
At the Bear River snow course, snow depth is 38 inches and water content is 9.9 inches, or 91 percent of normal. And at Crosho Lake, on the edge of the Flat Tops range southeast of Yampa, snowpack is 95 percent of normal at 10.6 inches of water. Snow depth at Crosho measures 38 inches.
The two sites in south Routt are the only two in Routt County to exceed 90 percent of the 20-year average.
Davey said typically he and colleague Vance Fulton rely heavily on snowshoes to visit snow measuring sites around the county. This year, however, the snowpack has set up such a hard crust, snowshoes were unnecessary in the morning.
"It was such a hard crust you could walk everywhere," Davey said.
Snowpack is lagging in north Routt County where snow depth at the Columbine Lodge measuring site on April 1 was 54 inches. The 19.3 inches of water it contained was just 77 percent of average. Last year's snow depth at the same site was 78 inches and it contained 27.5 inches of water.
Closer to home, snowpack on Rabbit Ears Pass is hovering around 80 percent of average. The Rabbit Ears "snotel," a snowpack measuring site that uses remote sensing equipment, measured snow depth of 61 inches and water content of 19.8 inches. That compares to last year when there was 85 inches of snow and 27.9 inches of water at the same location.
The records being used by the National Resource Conservation Service to determine average water content date to 1961.
Davey's office will conduct one more snow survey this year to determine snowpack levels at the end of April.