The snowpack in the mountains of the Yampa and White River Basins stands at 60 percent of average, but the figure is even lower on Rabbit Ears Pass at 47 percent of average.

Larry Pierce/courtesy

The snowpack in the mountains of the Yampa and White River Basins stands at 60 percent of average, but the figure is even lower on Rabbit Ears Pass at 47 percent of average.

Rabbit Ears moisture at 45 percent of average

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By the numbers

Water content in snowpack on Rabbit Ears Pass in the first week of January:

2011: 17.3 inches of water content, 165 percent

2012: 4.7 inches of water content, 45 percent of average

Source: Natural Resources Conservation Service

— The snowpack in the mountains of the Yampa and White River Basins stands at 60 percent of average, but it won’t surprise residents of Steamboat Springs that the snowpack close to home is lower than that.

The statewide snowpack report issued by the Natural Resources Conservation Service on Wednesday showed that the snowpack on the west summit of Rabbit Ears Pass is 45 percent of average for the first week in January. At the Tower measuring site at 10,500 feet on Buffalo Pass, it is 47 percent of average.

“It’s a big change from this year to last year. It definitely doesn’t look like it’s supposed to,” District Conservationist Lori Jazwick said Thursday.

Much of the snow being measured by the Conservation Service this week fell in November, but snowpack numbers are a little better on the east side of Buffalo Pass, a possible sign that those measuring sites picked up extra moisture from snow events on Colorado’s Front Range in December that backed up into Middle Park. The snowpack at Buffalo Park, south of U.S. Highway 40 near the snowmobile parking lot, was at 85 percent of average this week. And a little further down the east side of the pass, at the Columbine site, the number stands at 59 percent of average.

The way in which area residents and frequent visitors perceive the snow accumulation may be influenced by the abundance of snow in January 2011. The Tower site was at 129 percent of average Jan. 29, and at Rabbit Ears, it was at 165 percent of average.

The mission of the Conservation Service is to give municipalities and farmers information that helps to foresee what kind of water will run out of the mountains and into rivers in the spring. In that context, the term snowpack does not refer to the snow depth but the amount of water it contains.

The scarcity of snow “is affecting the ski season and people working in related industries, but in terms of water for next summer, it doesn’t look so good right now,” Jazwick said.

The Denver office of the Conservation Service is scheduled to release a statewide water outlook as soon as next week. Jazwick said her staff would not go into the field to take hand measurements of snow depth and snowpack until the end of January.

At this time last year, the Rabbit Ears measuring site contained 17.3 inches of water. This year, the snow contains 4.7 inches of water. The average is 10.5 inches

The NRCS also measures snow depth, but the agencies automated Web pages reporting snow depth are disabled this week.

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

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