Dry February in Colorado Rockies puts emphasis on spring snow storms
March 7, 2016
Steamboat Springs — The wet snow that fell in Steamboat Springs March 7 marked a "storm in the right direction" after federal Snow Survey supervisor Brian Domonkos reported March 4 that February marked the lowest precipitation in the past 30 years across Colorado.
Domonkos cautioned that if March and April don't produce more moisture than February did, the state will feel the shortfall.
"February in the mountains of Colorado is typically a slightly drier month than compared to say, April," Domonkos said in a news release. "But a dry February like this could have big ramifications should April and May not pan out."
February precipitation numbers on the valley floor in Steamboat Springs confirm that the upper Yampa Valley was part of the statewide trend.
After a snowy first five days of February when 15.4 inches of snow fell at a weather station 1.1 miles east of the city, the snow shut down for days at a time.
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Normal February precipitation in the city of Steamboat Springs is 1.9 inches of moisture, according to the National Weather Service. This February, Steamboat saw just 1.36 inches.
To put that in perspective, the storm that produced the single-greatest precipitation was one that blew into town on Feb. 15 and left 2.3 inches of snow, and coincidentally, .23 inches of moisture.
It was a similar story in the town of Hayden, where the snow that fell in February produced 1.16 inches of moisture compared to the "normal" 1.33 inches for the month.
Steamboat saw 22.2 inches of snowfall in the second month of the year compared to the normal 30.8 inches. And Hayden saw 16.7 inches of snow last month compared to the normal 18.4 inches.
Domonkos and his colleagues at the Natural Resources Conservation Service typically talk at this time of year about snowpack — the amount of moisture stored in the settled snow on the ground.
Over the course of winter, there are dry powder snowstorms that produce flashy snowfall totals but don't deliver much moisture. Domonkos isn't referring to snow in the February report but instead to the amount of moisture that February's modest snowfall delivered.
Thanks to an abundance of snow in December and January, snowpack across the Colorado Rockies remains strong at 99 percent of the median for the beginning of March in spite of falling by 12 percent. However, in the mountains, which feed the nearby North Platte and Yampa/White river basins, snowpack at 92 percent of median represents the lowest in the state on a percentage basis.
There are a few outliers though.
Lynx Pass in southeastern Routt County at 104 percent and Rabbit Ears Pass near Steamboat at 115 percent are among the more robust snowpack-measuring sites in the drainage. The Tower site on Buffalo Pass, at 75 percent, is among the lowest.