Snowpack levels higher than average

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— Oblivious to the Sunday closing of the Steamboat Ski Area, the snowpack in Northwest Colorado continued to grow this week, and data collected by the Natural Resources Conservation Service confirms that trend is typical for this time of year.

NRCS District Conservationist Lori Jazwick said the amount of snow near the valley floor is what really strikes her about snowpack conditions this season.

"It's scary. We have so much snow in the lower elevations," she said. "I've never seen so much stick around for this long."

The term snowpack, when used by the Conservation Service, implies more than just the depth of the accumulated snow. It also refers to the amount of moisture contained in the snow. Basinwide, the combined Yampa and White river drainages are at 113 percent of average.

Some, but not all, of the snow measuring sites maintained by the Conservation Service near Steamboat Springs have typically peaked or approached peak by this date.

The Conservation Service remotely gathers electronic data throughout the winter for key measuring sites and backs them up with periodic site visits during which manual techniques for sampling the density of the snowpack are used. Water users across the West rely on the data to prepare for summer demand.

"We don't make our final reading until the end of this month," Jazwick said. "That gives us the most accurate reading" of how much water there is to come down the streams and rivers during spring runoff.

At the top of Buffalo Pass on Monday morning, the snow contained an estimated 44.9 inches of water. That's slightly less than average for April 7, and 7.5 inches less than the typical peak of 52.4, which isn't due to arrive at 10,500 feet until May 6.

Longtime weather observer Art Judson said he expects to obtain a new firsthand reading of his own snow stake on Buffalo Pass later today. That stake reflected a snow depth of 132.2 inches on March 31.

Closer to the valley floor, the Dry Lake measuring site at the base of Buffalo Pass averages a peak of 22.7 inches April 3. The moisture content stood at 26.3 inches Monday, or 116 percent of average.

History tells us the Elk River measuring site should peak today. But there are strong signs that may not be the case in 2008. On a percentage basis, the Elk River site is leading the pack in the Yampa River Basin with 27.6 inches of water content - 137 percent of average.

There are some noteworthy snowpack figures to report from across the state. Wolf Creek Summit, in the upper Rio Grande Basin, shows 44.6 inches of moisture in snowpack that is 130 percent of average. El Diente Peak, in the northern San Juan Mountains, is at 158 percent of average. Independence Pass, east of Aspen, has 24.4 inches of moisture and stands at 140 percent of average.

- To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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