Yampa Basin snowpack at 90%

Water content stored in snow varies widely across region

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Several of the mountain sites surrounding Steamboat Springs have an above-average amount of water stored in the accumulated snow. However, the combined numbers for 18 snowpack measuring sites reveal that the Yampa and White river basins were at 90 percent of average Wednesday.

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service refer to water content rather than snow depth when they talk about "snowpack." The data they gather is vital to downstream water users. They are anxious to see an end to five years of drought and to see Lake Powell in Utah and Lake Mead in Nevada begin to refill next spring when the snow melts.

Vance Fulton of the NRCS office in Steamboat Springs said Wednesday that his crews will not to begin their annual on-site snow surveys until the end of January. Until then, his agency remotely gathers snowpack data from a large number of sites around the West. "Snotel" devices at sites give scientists the data they to determine snowpack based on snow's weight. That information is relayed to NRCS offices via radio telemetry.

A remote sensing device indicates that the water stored on the Continental Divide at the Tower site on Buffalo Pass northeast of Steamboat is 93 percent of normal. There is the equivalent of 16.8 inches of water there compared with the typical 18.1 inches.

Fulton said a couple of wet snowstorms that hit the valley in late November account for much of the moisture in the snow as 2004 comes to an end.

"Those were good storms, and at Tower, there's a lot of snow up there," Fulton said.

Fulton knows from a personal visit that the snow depth at the summit of Buffalo Pass stood at 3 feet 10 inches last weekend.

The storms missed some areas in the Yampa Basin, and that accounts for some wide variances in snowpack.

The water stored in the snow surrounding Crosho Lake south of Phippsburg in South Routt County amounts to less than 2 inches, or just 46 percent of average. Typically, there would be almost 4 inches of water in the snow at Crosho on this date.

However, it's a different story in North Routt County, where there were 9.9 inches of water as of Wednesday. That equates to 105 percent of average for the date.

Closer to Steamboat, the snowpack on the west side of Rabbit Ears pass is just 83 percent of average, but on the east side of the pass, at the old Columbine Lodge site, it stands at 96 percent of average.

Trappers Lake, in the heart of the Flat Tops south of Steamboat, is just 56 percent of average.

There's better news at Willow Creek Pass, east of Rabbit Ears. The snowpack there is destined to flow into the Colorado River. Snowpack stands at 125 percent of average in the pass between Granby and Rand.

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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