March tops off snowpack in mountain ranges surrounding Steamboat Springs
April 8, 2016
Steamboat Springs — The Yampa River basin stands to see near normal spring runoff after March provided an abundance of wet snow in the Park, Gore and Flat Top mountain ranges. The moisture may have come just in time.
"Generally, Colorado's mountain snowpack typically peaks in the beginning of April. Without an abnormally cool or wet spring, snowpack should begin running off soon." Colorado Snow Survey Supervisor Brian Domonkos said this week.
The U.S. Geological Survey, which measures streamflows, reports the Yampa River at Fifth Street in downtown Steamboat Springs typically begins to rise in the first week in April, and on Thursday, the river spiked sharply, from just above 300 cubic feet per second (cfs) to almost 500 cfs. That's about 100 cfs above the median for the date.
Domonkos, who works for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver, reported this week that, after a disappointing February, the northern half of Colorado was favored by the storm pattern in March. Still, the snowpack in the combined Yampa and White River basins is 97 percent of the median for the date.
Rabbit Ears Pass is among the outliers — the snow there was 73 inches deep Friday, and snowpack is 132 percent of median, with 33.3 inches of standing water, compared to the median 25.2 inches.
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The Dry Lake snowpack measuring site at the foot of Buffalo Pass is 120 percent of median, but the Tower site near the top of the pass is just 86 percent of median, with 39 inches of water compared to the normal 46 inches. Yet, with a snow depth of 107 inches, Tower leads the state.
Tower is one of more than 800 remotely monitored snow measuring stations in the mountain west that scientists use to predict how much water will flow down streams and rivers this springs, which correlates directly with water supply.
"Streamflow forecasts show a majority of the region expecting near or only somewhat below normal streamflows, with well-below-normal streamflows expected in the Southwest and a few localized areas in Wyoming, Montana and Utah," NRCS Hydrologist Cara McCarthy said this week.
Northwest Colorado is in much better shape than the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins, which drain the western San Juan Mountain Range. Snowpack there is just 71 percent of median. Snowpack at Red Mountain Pass and Molas Lake, between Silverton and Durango, is in the 60th percentile.
Ironically, Domonkos' report about the current snowpack conditions in Colorado came on the heels of an unusually dry week in the mountain states west of Colorado. Many measuring sites in Utah, Nevada, the Sierra's of California and the Cascades of Oregon showed little to no precipitation for the week of March 31 through April 6.