The snowpack accumulating in the mountains surrounding Steamboat Springs is setting a torrid pace, but the race to store water is a marathon, and the outcome won't be known until April.
The combined Yampa and White river basins are at 114 percent of the average snowpack for this date, according to data collected by the National Resource Conservation Service. The term snowpack refers not to the depth of the snow, but to the water stored in the snow on the ground.
"To be honest, I'm not sure how much this means," Vance Fulton of the NRCS office in Steamboat said Wednesday. "It means that we're off to a good start, but things can change."
Among more than 100 mountain snowpack measuring sites monitored by the NRCS in Colorado and portions of northeastern Utah, the Tower Site northeast of Steamboat Springs has the greatest snowpack of all.
Tower measures 17.6 inches of water compared with an average of 16.8 inches Wednesday. That converts to 105 percent of normal snowpack.
Another term used to describe the moisture stored in the snow is "snow-water equivalent." Fulton said on the same date in 2002, Tower had 13.6 inches of snow-water equivalent.
Extrapolating from known snow density and snow depth at the Dry Lake measuring site at the foot of Buffalo Pass, Fulton estimated the depth of the snow on the summit of the pass is about 77 inches.
Snow depth and moisture content don't correlate directly because some snowstorms are wetter than others, Fulton said. Dry Lake is one of a minority of NRCS sites that senses snow depth. It shows 9.3 inches of water in 40.8 inches of depth.
Elsewhere across the state, the Roaring Fork River Basin is at 92 percent of average. Independence Pass at 10,600 feet above Aspen has a snow-water equivalent of 5.7 inches of water, about 98 percent of average.
Red Mountain Pass, at 11,200 feet, has 8.3 inches of snow water equivalent, or 101 percent of average.
The closest rivals to Buffalo Pass are in the headwaters of the San Juan River in the extreme southern portion of Colorado. Wolf Creek Pass, with 13.6 inches of snow water equivalent is at 111 percent of normal. Just to the west, at the Upper San Juan snow-measuring site, the 15.6 inches of water stored in the snow is 151 percent of average.
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