Despite recent precip, snowpack losing ground

Percent of snowpack on Buff Pass drops

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— Snowboarders and skiers found 4 inches of fresh snow to frolic in on Mount Werner Tuesday morning, and the snowstorm made a measurable difference on Buffalo Pass.

A remote data collection site operated by the federal government showed Buffalo Pass picked up a half-inch of precious moisture Monday afternoon and evening. The 10,500-foot summit of the pass is about 13 miles northeast of Steamboat Springs

Despite the new precipitation, the snowpack in the mountains surrounding Steamboat has been losing ground to historical averages over the past 25 days. The term "snowpack" refers to the amount of water stored in the accumulated snow.

Employees of the National Resources Conservation Service are less interested in actual snow depth than they are in the snowpack. After a year of the worst drought in Colorado history, snowpack has taken on even greater importance than most years. Buffalo Pass typically stores some of the heaviest snowpack in the state.

Monday's moisture brought the current total on Buffalo Pass to 25.5 inches of water (stored in a little more than 75 inches of snow). That number represents just 78 percent of normal snowpack for this date. The combined Yampa and White river basins are at 75 percent of average.

That number has slipped from Jan. 16, when Buffalo Pass was at 82 percent of normal and the basinwide average stood at 80 percent.

Vance Fulton of the NRCS office in Steamboat said last week actual snow depth on Buffalo Pass is typically close to 100 inches at this time of year.

North Routt County is particularly dry this year, according to the snow survey Fulton and his colleagues conducted Feb. 1. Snowpack readings there range between 64 percent and 69 percent of average.

"It's not good anywhere, basically," Fulton said.

The Lost Dog Snotel, not far from Seedhouse Road, measured 45 inches of snow containing 12 inches of moisture on Feb. 1. Typically at that date, Lost Dog measures 17.4 inches of water. On the same date in 2002, the site produced a reading of just 10.3 inches of water.

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