Winter above the ‘Clark-tic Circle’ in North Routt County |

Winter above the ‘Clark-tic Circle’ in North Routt County

Winter above the 'Clark-tic Circle'

Between 7 and 8 inches of wet snow fell in the Yampa Valley Feb. 2, frosting the branches of trees along the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs and helping boost the water stored in the snowpack in the Yampa River Basin to 128 percent of median for the date.

— On average this winter, the heaviest snowfall in the upper Yampa River Basin is in North Routt County, where officials are running out of room to put the snow at the Steamboat Lake State Park visitor's center, park employee Kirk Mahaffey said.

He reported that 6 inches of heavy snow fell in the park Feb. 2 and confirmed that winters in North Routt are generally more severe than in Steamboat.

"It can be blue skies in town, and up here above the 'Clark-tic Circle,’ it's a blizzard, and you can't see a foot in front of your face," Mahaffey said Friday.

However, the wet snowstorm that put the frosting on the aspen and cottonwood trees in Steamboat Thursday actually produced a little more snow at the base of the ski area than it did at Hahn's Peak Village.

A six-pack of weather observers in Steamboat Springs who report precipitation to the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network, sponsored by Colorado State University, measured between 7.3 and 8 inches of snow as of 7 a.m. Feb. 3.

Still, the winter snowpack thus far, is more profound in North Routt. The snow water equivalent at 8,700 feet elevation at the Elk River measuring site is 15.7 inches of water stored in 49 inches of snow, or 140 percent of median. At the Lost Dog Snotel, another 620 feet of elevation translates into 63 inches of snow on the ground, which contains 20.5 inches of snow water equivalent or 131 percent of median.

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Snow moisture is generally described as "snow water equivalent" which is determined by the Conservation Service through the use of remote telemetry, or Snotel, devices that sense the weight of the snow.

The deepest snow in the Park Range is at the Tower Snotel on Buffalo Pass, per usual. The 96 inches of snow there contains 30.4 inches of snow water. That represents a more modest 111 percent of median, but compares favorably to the 84 percent of median recorded Feb. 1, 2016.

If this weather trend keeps up, Steamboat skiers and riders could eventually remember the winter of 2016/2017 as the season that just kept on giving, but the latest snowstorm also put an asterisk on the kind of spring runoff the Yampa Valley could look forward to in streams and rivers across the region.

In terms of a healthy environment and filling municipal reservoirs across the intermountain west, winter snow is an important indicator of what kind of summer lies ahead for farmers and ranchers, firefighting crews, paddlers and fishermen. And as of Feb. 3, things were looking good.

The amount of water stored in the snowpack in the Yampa River Basin, as measured by the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service, stood at 128 percent of the historic median for the date. That compares to 108 percent a year ago. But the current snowpack is even more profound in the headwaters of the Gunnison River, where snowpack was 173 percent of median, and the Crested Butte measuring site, which stood at 190 percent of median.

Weekend wildcard

There is likely more wet snow on the way for Steamboat, with daily high temperatures pushing close to 40-degrees Feb. 4 and 5.

Steamboat-based meteorologist Mike Weissbluth explained in his SnowAlarm blog that the missing cold air from Western Canada, coupled with warmer Pacific moisture on it's way from the Sierras, is creating a "wild-card" snow opportunity for Steamboat during the weekend.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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