Yampa Valley among the fortunate few with above average moisture

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— Residents of the Yampa Valley might have to set out on a six-state automobile journey through the American Southwest and Intermountain West to fully appreciate how fortunate the region surrounding Steamboat Springs is to stand out from the severe to extreme drought conditions prevailing elsewhere.

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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a drought summary Friday showing that the Park and Elkhead mountain ranges that wrap around Steamboat Springs and Craig are among a few pockets in the West enjoying above-average moisture and snowpack during the water year that began Oct. 1, 2013.

“Mountain snowpack was below normal, except for the Washington ranges and northern and central Rockies, with continued warmer than normal temperatures accelerating the melting of the meager snowpack in the California Sierras,” NOAA reported.

As recently as June 2012, drought conditions here were rated “extreme.”

Based on snowpack, moisture in Routt and Moffat counties ranges from 113 percent to 132 percent of the median for April 25. And that positive trend extends to Wyoming and particularly the northwest corner of that state, where snowpack is near 150 percent of average near Jackson, Wyo.

Moisture is even higher in west central and northern Montana where snowpack is as much as 164 percent of the median. Northern Washington’s snowpack also is more than 100 percent, but central Oregon is in the 50th percentile and some places in southern Oregon are just 20 percent of median.

There are portions of north Texas and Oklahoma’s panhandle that have not seen rain in 140 days.

Conditions in Moffat County are “abnormally dry,” according to NOAA’s drought monitor, but do not meet the standard for moderate drought conditions. Routt, Jackson, Grand, Summit, Eagle and many of the counties straddling the Continental Divide in Colorado are free of any drought listing.

In spite of the abundant snowpack here, Steamboat has seen below-average April precipitation through Friday morning.

“Normal” precipitation in the city of Steamboat for the month of April is 2.41 inches, according to NOAA. As of 7 a.m. Friday, April precipitation had totaled 1.72 inches. The 6 inches that had fallen as of the end of the week compares to a “normal” monthly average in town of 13.1 inches. You can find that data at the National Weather Service by clicking on “nowdata” and searching for Steamboat Springs.

Just to the west of Colorado, the snowpack in far eastern Utah that includes the La Sal, Abajo and Henry mountain ranges is just 4 percent of what is typical this time of year.

Across the West, 61.6 percent of the land mass is reported as being under moderate to exceptional drought conditions, up from 58.9 percent at the start of the water year. Some of the worst conditions are in southeastern Colorado, far eastern New Mexico, central Nevada and southern Colorado.

There also have been bursts of unseasonably warm temperatures here this month.

The median high in Steamboat in April is 53.5 degrees.

Steamboat didn’t get out of the 40s in the first eight days of April, but things took a change for the warmer beginning April 9 when the high was 59, followed by 63 on April 10 and 65 on April 12.

A mini cold snap followed April 14 and 15 with overnight lows of 10 degrees both days and high temperatures of 39 and 33 degrees.

But the early spring heat returned in earnest April 18 with a high of 58 followed by 69 degrees April 19. The daily highs remained in the 60s from Sunday through Wednesday.

The National Weather Service is predicting that an entrenched ridge of high pressure will bring colder than normal temperatures east of the Rockies from Thursday to May 7, but warmer than normal temperatures to the West.

NOAA sees the drought persisting or intensifying in most of the West between now and July 31, excluding Montana, Wyoming and all of Colorado but the southeastern portion of the state.

Western New Mexico, however, could catch a break in July from a summer monsoon that would improve drought conditions and even remove them in an isolated area of the state.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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