Rabbit Ears Pass was the big winner in the March snowpack derby, picking up a solid 6 inches of moisture, much of it in the past two weeks. However, the snowpack there remains at just 80 percent of typical levels.
The term snowpack, as used by the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service, refers to the amount of moisture stored in the snow rather than to actual snow depth.
Dennis Scheiwe of the NRCS office in Steamboat Springs visited the Rabbit Ears site on the west side of the pass Thursday and was impressed by what he saw.
"I went in on snowshoes. It was actually difficult snowshoeing," Scheiwe said. "It was incredible. There was 24 inches of beautiful soft powder."
The raw snow depth at the Rabbit Ears measuring site was 79 inches, but much of that snow will settle out in the next week, Scheiwe said. A few miles away, on the east side of the pass, a second measuring site reflected just 6 inches of new snow.
The Rabbit Ears measuring site stood at 15.8 inches of water (68 percent of average) on March 9. That is in contrast to the seasonal average of 23.1 inches of water. The number had improved to 21.8 inches of water by Friday.
It's a different story in North Routt County, where season-long snowfall has kept the snowpack above average. The snow that fell near Columbine last month served only to keep the snowpack constant at 110 percent of average. The actual moisture content near Columbine (northwest of Steamboat Lake at 8,700 feet elevation) grew 3 inches, to 21.8 inches. That compares favorably to the average of 19.6 inches.
Longtime weather and avalanche observer Art Judson said the North Routt snowpack received a big boost in early to mid-January. Beginning Jan. 12, Judson said, North Routt received a foot of snow a day for six straight days. The moisture was delivered by a southwesterly flow that missed Steamboat and the Park Range.
Crosho Lake, south of Steamboat, also reflected a favorable jump in snowpack last month.
The measuring site south of Phippsburg stood at just 68 percent of average on March 9, and by Friday it had improved to 79 percent of the average 12 inches of water for this date.