Snowpack heavy with moisture

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The 6 inches of snow that fell on the Steamboat Ski Area during the weekend brought the season snow total to within a foot of the annual average of 315.3 inches. Steamboat now has accumulated 303.25 inches for the winter of 2008-09.

With five weeks remaining in the ski season, Steamboat looks like a good bet to have an above-average season, one year after the all-time record of 489 inches fell at mid-mountain. However, the moisture stored in the mountains surrounding Steamboat Springs already is above average.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service is reporting that the combined Yampa and White river basins are standing at 108 percent of average moisture for this date.

Lori Jazwick, district conservationist for the NRCS in Steamboat, sees signs that the snow season further is advanced toward spring than it was a year ago. Jazwick said the snow surveys undertaken by her staff at the end of February generally showed snow depths 5 inches lower than last year but moisture content just slightly lower than that of the 2007-08 snowpack.

"I think one of the reasons we have such good moisture content (relative to snow depth) is that we've had such warm temperatures," Jazwick said. "We have less snow, but it's heavier snow. By the end of the month, it could be a little scarce if we don't get more snow."

Moisture content ranges from a low of 93 percent of average at the old Columbine Lodge site on the east side of Rabbit Ears Pass, to 120 percent of average at the Elk River measuring site on the western edge of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area in North Routt.

Columbine is on the east side of the Continental Divide, and the water there runs away from the Yampa Valley, Jazwick said. Closer to home, at the Rabbit Ears site on the west side of the pass, moisture content is 110 percent of average at an elevation of 9,400 feet.

Remote sensing devices monitored by the NRCS show the snow depth at Rabbit Ears stood at 58.3 inches Monday, down from a recent high of 61.7 inches March 2. The fresh snow settled 1.3 inches between Sunday and Monday.

The NRCS staff will conduct another snow survey at the end of March and a final survey of the season at the end of April. The snowpack on nearby Buffalo Pass often continues to grow during early May.

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