Steamboat Springs The sloppy weather that has inundated the Yampa Valley the last two weeks has area farmers and ranchers whistling a happy tune.
Routt County is finally getting the kind of cold spring moisture that is the basis of its agriculture after suffering through back-to-back drought years in 2001 and 2002.
"There's almost a direct correlation between moisture this time of year and tons of forage, both (in) pastures and hay meadows," Routt County Agricultural Extension Agent C.J. Mucklow said. "Moisture in May and June is what really counts for the perennial cool season grasses that are the foundation of our agriculture. You couldn't have asked for better (weather). Now we need some warm days and the grass will really grow."
Such a scenario would be in contrast to last summer when drought cut the hay crop in half.
"The grasses literally stopped growing," Mucklow said. "I don't think I've ever seen that before in July."
Some dryland hay farmers didn't bother to cut a crop last summer, Mucklow said. In a typical year, irrigated hay meadows in Routt County produce 2 tons of hay per acre and dryland produces 1.15 tons. Area producers saw a 50-percent reduction in yields last year.
The mix of rain and snow in the past 14 days has soaked into the soil, Mucklow said, and the soil is nearing saturation.
At slightly higher elevations, the precipitation is falling as snow. In some locations, the amount of moisture stored in the snowpack exceeds 100 percent of average.
Much of that is due to the big storm of April 22, which jolted locals out of a spring reverie with up to two feet of snow.
Remote snowpack sensing devices maintained by the Natural Resource Conservation Service indicated Monday that the moisture content on the west side of Rabbit Ears Pass is just over 30 inches. That's 106 percent of the historical average of 28.5 inches.
The percentage winner in the combined Yampa and White River basin is the Dry Lake measuring site at the base of Buffalo Pass. The accumulated snow there equates to 19.5 inches of water, or 127 percent of average.
Vance Fulton of the Natural Resource Conservation Service said the big storm seemed to have a greater proportional impact at lower elevations than it did at measuring sites above 10,000 feet.
"Normally, if you got six inches of snow in town you'd expect two feet at Tower (the measuring site on the summit of Buffalo Pass)," Fulton said. "That didn't happen this time. There was about 20 inches at Dry Lake and about 25 inches at Tower."
Fulton and his colleagues typically make their final snow survey of the season on April 1. But the size of the April 22 snow event sent them back into the hills on April 28 for another round of measurements.
Some of the remote measuring sites actually shut down because the measurements they were recording appeared to be aberrations for this time of year and indicated a malfunction, Fulton said.
The 51 inches of snowpack at Tower is no aberration-- it's 98 percent of the historic average. The numbers at Tower have held steady since April 28, when the snow depth measured 129 inches, Fulton said.