Steamboat Springs The snowpack in the mountains that feed the Yampa River with its spring and summer flows has rebounded significantly since Valentine’s Day. Now the race is on to see whether the water stored in the snow can catch up to average.
The snowpack on the west summit of Rabbit Ears Pass is only halfway there with the finish line just seven weeks away.
The combined Yampa and White river basins stood at 80 percent of average moisture stored in the snow on Monday, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
“Things have improved for Colorado since Feb. 1, that’s for sure,” NRCS assistant snow survey supervisor Mage Skordahl said. “But overall the chances are pretty unlikely we’ll get back to average by April. We don’t get a lot of moisture in April, but if we get a wet spring there can still be a large accumulation then as well.”
Skordahl was putting the finishing touches on a statewide water forecast Monday and said Colorado had picked up 9 percentage points in February to reach 81 percent of average snowpack.
She said in a typical year, Colorado gets 20 percent of its seasonal snow moisture in March.
Close to Steamboat Springs, at 9,400 feet, the Rabbit Ears Snotel site showed 15.2 inches of water in the snowpack compared to the typical 22.3 inches for the date. That translates to 68 percent of average. But there’s more ground to be made up.
Statistical averages compiled by the NRCS suggest Rabbit Ears has about 50 days to pick up enough wet spring snow to reach 30 inches of moisture by April 24, when, on average, the snowpack peaks.
Among the 20 different snowpack measuring sites in the combined Yampa and White river drainages, the average peak of snowpack accumulation varies from March 22 at the Battle Mountain Snotel site just across the state line in Carbon County, Wyo., to May 7 at the Lost Dog Snotel site up the Elk River northeast of Clark.
The Tower Snotel site at the 10,500-foot summit of Buffalo Pass on the Continental Divide northeast of Steamboat typically peaks on May 6 with 52.4 inches of water, according to the NRCS. On Monday, the water content in the snow there stood at 28.7 inches. That’s 74 percent of average for the date, but 55 percent of the average peak.
The area around Crosho Lake on the edge of the Flat Tops Wilderness Area between Phippsburg and Yampa has a good shot at reaching average snowpack — water content there on Monday was 9.8 inches, or 92 percent of the average for the date of 10.7 inches. The Crosho Snotel site needs to get to 12 inches to hit the April 5 average peak snowpack.
Skordahl said after unprecedented snowpack in the winter of 2010-11, it should be easier for Colorado to absorb a subpar winter this year.
“After last year reservoir levels are higher and hopefully soil moisture is higher,” she said. “It will be easier to recover from 80 percent (of average snowpack) than if it had been 65 percent.”
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com