The snow on the slopes of Steamboat Ski Area is a good sign for skiers and those hoping for a strong runoff in spring. The snowpack in the mountains of Northwest Colorado is at its highest level since 1997, according to officials at the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver. The high measurements could mean that the water flows in streams and rivers will be above average in spring.

Photo by John F. Russell

The snow on the slopes of Steamboat Ski Area is a good sign for skiers and those hoping for a strong runoff in spring. The snowpack in the mountains of Northwest Colorado is at its highest level since 1997, according to officials at the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver. The high measurements could mean that the water flows in streams and rivers will be above average in spring.

Snowpack above average in Northwest Colorado

Streamflows assured with water content at highest level in 14 years

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The snowpack in the mountains of Northwest Colorado is at its highest level since 1997, according to officials at the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver.

— The snowpack in the mountains of Northwest Colorado stands at 124 percent of average and at the highest level for March 1 in 14 years, making above average flows in area streams and rivers a likelihood during the summer months.

“We have a number of snow measuring sites in the northern part of the state that have more than 100 inches of snow,” Chris Pacheco said Friday. “The northern (river) basins are doing really well. We attribute much of that to La Niña.”

Pacheco is the assistant snow survey supervisor with the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver.

He said the Yampa and White River basins’ snowpack, at 124 percent of average, is the highest March 1 snowpack since 1997, when the basin was measured at 142 percent of average.

The Tower snowpack measuring site, just northeast of Steamboat Springs at 10,500 feet on Buffalo Pass, has some of the highest snowpack in the region. Pacheco’s agency is reporting that the snow depth on Buffalo Pass had settled down to 133 inches Friday from a high of 144 inches Feb. 26.

When the Natural Resources Conservation Service uses the term “snowpack,” it’s really referring to the amount of water stored in the snow, and the 45.9 inches at the Tower site represents 120 percent of average for the date.

“Where snowpack totals are above average, the outlook for summer water supplies is virtually certain for at least near average volumes this year,” Pacheco wrote in his March 1 report. “Current streamflow forecasts are consistently above average throughout the Yampa, Colorado and North Platte basins. Volumes of about 120 percent to nearly 150 percent of average are currently forecast for the spring and summer months in these basins.”

The Park Range, of which Mount Werner is a part, feeds all three river basins.

“The origins of snowpack measurements are related to agriculture, and our streamflow projections are tied to the irrigation season,” Pacheco said.

The prediction of 120 to 150 percent streamflows in the rivers in Northwest Colorado is a measurement of the total flow for a four- to five-month period in summer, and not an indication of peak flows, he explained.

In Routt County, the Elk River snow measuring site close to Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area has a snow depth of 65 inches and the water content is just more than 21 inches, or 129 percent of average. At Crosho Lake, on the edge of the Flat Tops in South Routt, the snow is 51 inches deep and contains 14.6 inches of water. That is 138 percent of average.

“Even though the snowpack near Steamboat lost a couple of percentage points from Feb. 1 to March 1, you got such a good start to the winter that we should have a fine year in the northern part of the state,” Pacheco said.

— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or e-mail tross@SteamboatToday.com

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