Too early to call it a trend

Buffalo Pass snowpack exceeds historical average

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— Meaningful snowpack information probably won't emerge until March 2003. However, the early November returns are optimistic.

Snowpack is the amount of water content in snow that has accumulated. Already there is 9.3 inches of water stored in the snowpack on Buffalo Pass northeast of Steamboat Springs. That is 126 percent of the average 7.4 inches that has typically accumulated by Nov. 14.

Vance Fulton of the National Resources Conservation office here said it is far too early to discern any pattern to the winter's snowfall.

"It can really change," Fulton said, "but it's better than nothing."

Virtually "nothing" is the amount of water that was stored on Buffalo Pass last year at this time. Fulton and his colleagues visit a variety of established sites around the Yampa River Drainage throughout the winter to sample the amount of water stored in the snow.

The data they gather augments statistics compiled by automated sites called "snotels." The information is vital to downstream water users in the greater Colorado River Basin.

The "Tower" site at the 10,880-foot summit of Buffalo Pass often reports one of the highest snowpack readings in Colorado.

Fulton said the conversion of snowpack readings into actual snow depth varies with the density of the snow accumulated on the ground. For this time of year, he said a density of about 30 percent is typical, meaning the snow on Buffalo Pass is probably close to 31 inches deep.

Although the Tower site has the highest snowpack in the region, Crosho Lake on the edge of the Flat Tops near Yampa has one of the highest numbers in terms of percentages. Crosho Lake, at 9,100 feet, has snowpack that is 273 percent of average.

The significance of that number is diminished, Fulton observed, when you consider the average water content of the snow at Crosho this time of year is 1.1 inches and this year's total is 3 inches.

The Tower site's primary rival for the title of "deepest snow in the state" is often the 11,000-foot summit of Wolf Creek Pass in the San Juan Basin.

Wolf Creek was at 91 percent of average on Nov. 14 with 6.3 inches of water.

The outlook is rosier around the rest of the San Juan Basin, where the cumulative figures are at 133 percent of average.

The combined Yampa/White River Basin is at 118 percent of average.

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