Snowpack in Yampa Basin climbs to 121 percent of median
January 6, 2017
Steamboat Springs — The series of storms, which delivered 30 inches of snow to the slopes of the Steamboat Ski Area Jan. 3 to 5, also served to bolster the snowpack along the Continental Divide from Buffalo Park in the south to the Elk Rive snow-measuring site in North Routt to the point that it is well above median for this early in the winter.
Online snowpack reports maintained by the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Denver show that the snowpack — actually the amount of water contained in the snow — in the combined Yampa and White river basins is now at 121 percent of median for the date. And that healthy number ranks among the lowest in the state.
The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins in the Southern Colorado Rockies stand at 142 percent of median, and at one particular snow-measuring site called Mancos, the snowpack is 185 percent of normal.
The highest snowpack measurement closer to Steamboat, on a percentage basis, is in Buffalo Park south of U.S. Highway 40 on Rabbit Ears Pass. The 44 inches of snow on the ground there holds 8.8 inches of water, 176 percent of the median 5 inches.
In North Routt, the Elk River site at 8,700-feet elevation on the edge of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area stands at 140 percent of median snowpack.
Remote sensors indicate that snow depth there increased from 31 inches on Jan. 2 to 58 inches on Jan. 5, for a net gain of 27 inches before the snow condensed to a depth of 53 inches on Jan. 6. The amount of water stored in that standing snow is almost 11 inches.
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One of a handful of sites in the Yampa/White drainage that stands below 100 percent snowpack is Tower, on Buffalo Pass northeast of Steamboat, at 96 percent. Still, the snowpack at Tower has grown dramatically in the last week with snow depth jumping from 52 inches on Jan. 3 to 75 inches on Jan. 6.
Rain on Monday, Jan. 9?
The National Weather Service is forecasting that the next chance to increase the snowpack comes overnight Saturday with a 40-percent chance of snow, followed by a 60-percent chance of a rain/snow mix on Sunday. The wild card arrives on Monday when a warmer storm front begins to enter the valley delivering a 70-percent chance of rain and a high temperature of 37 degrees.
Senior forecaster Jeff Colton in the Grand Junction office of the Weather Service sees a chance for rain to fall at higher elevations Jan. 9.
"Monday will be rather warm for early January with snow levels driving up the slopes to elevations we would prefer to avoid," Colton wrote early in the day on Jan. 6. "The air mass will be quite saturated with," humidity levels two to three times normal for January.
Cooler temperatures and a chance for snow return on Tuesday.