The water stored in the snowpack in the mountains of Northwest Colorado is headed in the wrong direction. But the percentage decrease in snow-water equivalent is not necessarily because the snow at high elevation is melting.
Expressed as a percentage of average, the stored water in the combined Yampa and White river drainages declined by 12 points in the past two weeks, from 108 to 96 percent of average. There remains individual snowpack measuring sites in the region that are above average, according to online data reported by the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service.
"We've had some really warm temperatures, and the snow has begun to melt significantly, but up higher, we weren't hit as bad," District Conservationist Lori Jazwick said.
Some of the snowpack decline during the second and third weeks of March can be attributed to sparse snowfall that hasn't advanced the snowpack, allowing the percent of average to slip.
Steamboat Ski Area reported 4 inches of new snow at mid-mountain and 6 inches of new snow at the summit as of 1:20 p.m. Monday.
At the Rabbit Ears snowpack measuring site on the west side of Rabbit Ears Pass, snow-water equivalent has slipped from 110 percent of average March 9 to 101 percent Monday. That change was recorded even as the actual amount of water grew by 4/10 of an inch.
The Rabbit Ears site is at an elevation of 9,400 feet, and as the snowpack has condensed in the relatively mild March weather, the actual snow depth has shrunk from 61.7 inches March 2, to 58.3 inches March 9 and 51.1 inches Monday.
The snow-water equivalent remains at 104 percent of average at the Elk River measuring site on the western edge of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area in North Routt County. However, that percentage was at 120 percent March 9.
One spot in the region where the snow-water equivalent actually has decreased is on the edge of the Flat Tops south of the communities of Phippsburg and Yampa. At the Crosho Lake measuring site, the water content at 9,100 feet reached a monthly peak of 13.2 inches March 16 and has since declined to 11.5 inches.
Daily high temperatures at Crosho exceeded 40 degrees Fahrenheit in six of the eight days after March 17.
From a less scientific standpoint, Jazwick said snow conditions on her family's ranch east of Hayden are on par with most years in late March.
"There's a tendency to compare things to last year, but last year was just epic," Jazwick said. "Really, we're at about average for this time of year. We want a little bare ground for calving, and that's what we have."