Rabbit Ears Pass snowpack moisture, near average, is an outlier
Steamboat Springs — At first glance the snowpack numbers for the mountains that feed the upper Yampa River Basin seem counterintuitive.
In spite of sparse January snowfall and the early spring skiing weather that prevailed during the first week of February, the moisture stored in the snow on the West Summit of Rabbit Ears Pass is a healthy 98 percent of median for Feb. 9.
To the south, in the foothills of the Flat Tops at Crosho Lake, that number is 119 percent of the median for the date. Snowpack numbers at Rabbit Ears and Crosho Lake don’t jive with the overall Feb. 1 snowpack numbers released Feb. 5 for the combined Yampa/White River basins by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. And in other locations in Northwest Colorado, snowpack is much lower.
Colorado Snow Survey Supervisor Brian Domonkos said in a news release that the North Platte River Basin along with the combined Yampa/White River Basins saw snowpack decrease in January by margins of 23 and 26 percent of normal respectively.
“With nearly one-third of the winter remaining, Colorado is running short of time to catch up,” Domonkos said. “Statewide snowfall would need to amount to 124 percent of normal from now until mid-April to achieve normal snowpack peak levels.”
The term snowpack, as reported by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, refers to the amount of water stored in the standing snow on the ground.
Domonkos said that although summer outlooks for streamflow volumes for April through July vary significantly around the state, most are forecasted to be between 60 percent and 85 percent of average.
The forecast for the Yampa stood at 81 percent of average streamflow on Feb. 1. The Little Snake River drainage to the northwest of Routt County was forecasted to have only 71 percent of average flows. And the forecast for the White is 79 percent.
If there is a reason for optimism, it could be found in the current water storage in reservoirs around Colorado. Reservoirs in the Yampa/White River drainages are among the strongest in the state, averaging 112 percent after heavy rainfall in July, August and September, according to the Conservation Service.
The snowpack numbers around the Yampa and Elk River drainages are spotty.
On Buffalo Pass at the tower measuring site, snowpack was 79 percent of median on Monday. But even Buffalo Pass seems to be benefitting from the fact that the relative handful of snow storms that have passed over the northern Flat Tops and the Park Range have been high-moisture events.
At Rabbit Ears on Feb. 2, the snow depth was a modest 37 inches and contained 12.2 inches of moisture. Four days later on Feb. 6, 15 inches of additional snow depth had bumped the water content to 14.8 inches, or an additional 2.6 inches of snowpack.
It was a similar story on top of Buffalo Pass where the snowpack picked up an additional 4.3 inches of water thanks to 20 inches of new snow that boosted snow depth to 77 inches.
North of Steamboat, the Elk River and Lost Dog sites at 8,700 feet on the edge of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness area both stand at 83 percent of average.
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