Moisture in snowpack well above average in mountains surrounding Steamboat
March 31, 2014
Steamboat Springs — Frequently fresh is one way to describe snowfall at Steamboat Ski Area in March 2014.
Skiers and riders didn't experience any double-digit powder days, but they never went more than three days without some new snowfall to keep their favorite trails freshened up. And there was only one of those three-day dry spells. Snow fell on the slopes of Mount Werner 15 days in March, yielding a snowfall total of 42 inches at midmountain and 57 at the summit. The average midmountain March snowfall total is 52 inches.
David Baldinger Jr., the official observer for the National Weather Service, said his weather station not far from Steamboat Springs High School finished March with 16.1 inches of snow and14.7 on the ground, compared to 28.5 inches accumulation and 20.8 on the ground at the end of March 2013.
Baldinger Jr. confirmed that consistent snowfall has been the hallmark of the weather pattern the past two months — February began with snowfall in town on 14 of the first 17 days.
Some of the best skiing of the month came March 1 and 2, when a combined 5 inches fell at the top of Thunderhead and 7 inches accumulated at Storm Peak.
Monday's measured snowfall of 6 inches at midmountain and 7 inches at the summit marked the biggest 24-hour snowfall of the month. Steamboat finished up with 13 inches of midmountain snow and 17 at the summit in the final five days of the month.
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For the season, Steamboat now has seen 333 inches of snowfall and is within a couple of inches of the 20-year average with the ski season scheduled to end April 13.
Strong spring runoff likely
The combined Yampa/White river drainages appear to be on track for an above-average spring runoff season.
The amount of moisture contained in the snowpack at several key measuring sites in the mountains above Steamboat Springs already is greater than the median peak for the season, according to records kept by the National Resources Conservation Service.
Snowpack doesn't refer to the depth of the settled snow on the ground but rather how much moisture it contains, or snow water equivalent, which can vary with the density of the snow that accumulates in different snow storms throughout the winter. With average snowfall at Steamboat Ski Area this season, the abundant moisture is a indication that the Park Range close to Steamboat has seen some moisture-laden storms this winter.
A snowpack measuring site at 9,400 feet on the west summit of Rabbit Ears Pass that is maintained by the NRCS shows 35.3 inches of water is contained in the snow there. That's 145 percent of the median for the date, but also 135 percent of the median peak, which isn't statistically due for another four weeks April 28.
The median peak water stored at the end of the winter on Rabbit Ears is 26.1 inches compared to 35.3 inches there now. How that water finds its way to the valley and the main stem of the Yampa during spring runoff depends on weather patterns between now and mid-May.
And, of course, the date when snowpack on Rabbit Ears Pass, and other nearby snow measuring sites, peaks can significantly vary from year to year.
The Tower site, at 10,500 feet elevation on Buffalo Pass, just northeast of the city of Steamboat, is storing significantly more water than Rabbit Ears right now — 51.3 inches — and the median date when it peaks isn't until May 9. As of March 31, the snowpack at the Continental Divide is 147 inches deep and 118 percent of median for the date. Coincidentally, that is 100 percent of the median.
Steamboat typically sees two phases of spring runoff, the first when lower elevation boosts river flows, and the second much later when the snow above 9,000 feet finally gives in to the longer, warmer days of spring.