Steamboat Springs Skiers at the top of Storm Peak were romping in 7.5 inches of fresh powder Tuesday afternoon, but for people focusing on Colorado's empty reservoirs, the return to a wintry pattern this week may represent too little too late.
"I've heard rumors that El NiÃ±o is going to bring us a lot of moisture, but even if it does, I think we'll be very fortunate if we get close to average," Vance Fulton said.
Fulton and his colleagues at the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service just completed the Feb. 1 Yampa River Basin snow survey.
They learned the water stored in the mountainous areas of Routt County is about 78 percent of average.
After the drought of 2002, the state's water managers estimated it would take three years of above-average snowfall to refill reservoirs in the mountains and plains.
The NRCS crew visits a dozen sites around Routt County, where it takes core samples of the snow and weighs them to determine water content.
The "Tower Snotel" on Buffalo Pass, which is almost within sight of downtown Steamboat Springs, typically vies with Wolf Creek Pass near Gunnison for the most snow in the state.
Saturday's reading on Buffalo Pass showed 74 inches of snow containing 23.6 inches of water. The average snow depth at the Tower site on Feb. 1 is 90 inches with water content of 30.1 inches.
This year's Feb. 1 water reading marks the seventh lowest in the 38 years since 1965, Fulton said. Feb. 1, 2002, represented the third lowest reading.
"Keep in mind, you can have different water content in the same snow depth," Fulton said.
The Rabbit Ears Snotel on Rabbit Ears Pass is a case in point. The snow depth on Saturday was 46 inches, the same as last year on this date.
However, this year the snow contained 13.8 inches of water compared to just 12.8 inches last year. The average water for the date is 16 inches.
The most favorable snowpack reading in the area remains Crosho Lake southwest of Yampa on the edge of the Flat Tops. The snow there is 28 inches deep and water content measures 7.1 inches, which is 92 percent of the historical average of 7.7 inches.