Area snowpack levels nearing average

123 inches reported on Buffalo Pass

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— The snow at the top of Buffalo Pass is 10 feet deep today, just about where it should be on April 1.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service in Steamboat Springs reports the snow at the Tower measuring site on Buffalo Pass about 12 miles northeast of the city converts to 42.98 inches of snowpack or water content. That is 93 percent of the average snowpack based on records that go back to 1971.

"It's encouraging that Tower is at 93," Vance Fulton of the NRCS said. "This time last year we were at 75 (percent of normal)."

Fulton's office and downstream water users are more interested in the actual water content of the snow than they are in the snow depth.

Overall, snowpack in the Yampa River Basin is at 90 percent of normal. In most years, the April 1 readings represent the highest of the season, Fulton said.

"Tower is one of the few sites that actually gains snowpack in April," Fulton said. "The rest all start to decline."

Tower, at more than 10,000 feet on the Continental Divide, also represents one of the most significant readings. The major portion of stored water in the snow is at high elevations, Fulton said.

Fulton's colleagues, Pat Davey and Al White, visited 10 measuring sites to compile the April 1 report. The sites range from the Butter Hill snow course 6 miles north of Columbine to Bear River Snow course in the south. Measurements varied from a low of 78 percent of normal snowpack at the Elk River Snotel to a high of 111 percent at Crosho Lake in the south. Bear River, south of Yampa, was at 96 percent of normal.

Some lower elevation sites like Elk River have already given up some of this winter's snowpack to warm temperatures.

"That's pretty typical for this time of year," Fulton said.

Closer to Steamboat, the accumulated snow on Rabbit Ears Pass is still six feet deep in most places. At the Rabbit Ears Snotel on the west side of the pass, the snow is 67 inches deep compared to 58 inches last year on this date.

Water content of 22.1 inches is just 81 percent of normal. Typically, the snow on the west side of the pass contains 27.3 inches of water on April 1.

Fulton said the big snow event of the winter for the Yampa Valley came during the last week of February, when a succession of storms boosted basin wide snowpack from 78 percent of average to 91 percent on March 1. The balance of March essentially held onto that number, he said.

Coloradans won't be surprised to learn that snowpack readings on Colorado's Front Range made a dramatic turnaround in mid-March when a week of snowstorms dropped six feet of snow and more in the foothills above Denver. The South Platte River Drainage is currently at 111 percent of average snowpack, Fulton said.

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