Snowpack in Steamboat region nears 75 percent of median
January 12, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The return of a wet snowy weather pattern this week has boosted the snowpack in the combined Yampa and White river basins, which includes Steamboat Springs, and Routt County, to 73 percent of median as of Friday, Jan. 12.
It's not great news for skiers and irrigators, but it could be worse; in the Gunnison River basin south of Grand Junction and Aspen, the snowpack is just 48 percent of median for the date.
The term "snowpack" as used by scientists at the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service actually refers to the water stored in the snow on the ground. Snow depth alone does not translate directly into water content, as some snow events deliver more moisture per inch of measured snowfall than others.
Water users from municipal water authorities to hay growers and whitewater rafting companies will being paying close attention to snowpack between now and the middle of April when snowpack usually peaks. Mountain snowpack typically begins to melt and flow into the region's rivers in mid-May.
While the majority of the winter remains ahead of water users in Colorado, the outlook is not good in southwest Colorado. The Upper Rio Grande Basin surrounding Alamosa, and the combined San Miguel/Dolores/Animas and San Juan basins where Durango is located, currently have just 34 percent of median snowpack.
The San Juan Mountains of southeastern Colorado, that feed those rivers include many of the state's 14,000-foot peaks, like Mt. Sneffels, which typically hold onto their snow fields well into summer.
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The other side of the mountain
Some of the highest snowpack in the state is just across the Continental Divide from Steamboat in the headwaters in Jackson County and the headwaters of the North Platte River, which flows into Southern Wyoming.
The 81 percent of median snowpack there is being driven by greater snowfall in the Medicine Bow, Rawah and Never Summer mountain ranges where numerous snow-measuring stations stand at greater than 100 percent median snowpack.
The Buffalo Park snow measuring site on the east side of Rabbit Ears Pass currently has 35 inches of snow on the ground and contains 7.9 inches of water, which is 146 percent of median for the date. On the Steamboat side of the pass, the Rabbit Ears measuring site measured 37 inches of snow depth, up from 30 inches on Jan. 10 and 24 inches on Jan. 6.
The Dry Lake snow-measuring site at 8,400-feet elevation at the base of Buffalo Pass is just north of Steamboat and shows a snow depth of 33 inches with snowpack that is 65 percent of median.
Near the top of Buffalo Pass, the Tower measuring site, at 10,500 feet, is at 67 percent of median snowpack with 57 inches of snow on the ground. That's up from 47 inches the day before.