Yampa Valley sees deepest snowpack in 5 years | SteamboatToday.com

Yampa Valley sees deepest snowpack in 5 years

The Yampa River runs through downtown Steamboat Springs on Friday morning. (Photo by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As local skiers’ quads ache from another powder weekend and neighborhood teens’ arms tire from another round of snow shoveling, the Yampa Valley has seen its deepest snowpack since winter 2013-14.

Most backyards in Steamboat Springs are filled with thigh-deep snow. In the mountains, the Natural Resource Conservation Service’s snow telemetry sites above Steamboat are all at or above average, from 47 inches of snow at the Bear River site in South Routt to 148 inches at the Tower site on Buffalo Pass.

On Saturday, the Yampa and White River Basin’s snowpack hit 23.8 inches of snow water equivalent, a measure that considers the amount of water contained in the snowpack. Considering snowpack data from 1986 to present, the median peak of snowpack in the Yampa and White River Basin is 22.9 inches of snow water equivalent. This typically occurs around April 13 when snowpack peaks before melting off.

This year’s snowfall has exceeded that median, and it did so about a month before it typically happens. Snowpack is at 119 percent of average in the Yampa and White River Basin and at 129 percent of average statewide.

And there’s more snow coming. The National Weather Service is calling for snow showers in Steamboat on Wednesday and Thursday.

“It’s so great that we finally had a good snow year because we’ve had year after year after year of drier, lower snowpack years,” Steamboat Springs Water Resources Manager Kelly Romero-Heaney said. “It’s just worth celebrating.”

The impacts of those dry years don’t disappear, though. As of Monday, Routt County was still under moderate drought and abnormally dry conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

“Runoff isn’t going to be totally mirroring the snowpack because of low soil moisture,” said Jim Pokrandt, community affairs director of the Colorado River District, which encompasses Routt County. “Some of the runoff is going to be going into the ground before it starts hitting the streams, which is a general fact when you’re coming off of a couple dry, hot summers like we’ve had.”

Soil moisture isn’t the only impact to agriculture. Too much warm weather too soon could trigger early snowmelt, similar to what was seen in spring 2017. This means that water rushes downstream before producers are ready to divert and use it to irrigate hay meadows. Higher early spring temperatures are expected to occur more frequently as global temperatures warm.

“If we get an early runoff, then there’s not as much water available later in the season both for irrigation for agriculture and to keep the river flowing because it runs off at a time when we can’t use it,” Romero-Heaney said.

“We just have to remember that there is no normal in Colorado,” she said. “It’s variable. It could stop snowing. It could melt early. It could not rain in the middle of the summer. We just have to be prepared for all that climate variability.”

This chart compares 2019 to the five wettest years in the Yampa and White River Basin since the National Resources Conservation Service started tracking snowfall at Snotel sites in 1986. Check out the interactive chart below to compare this year to other years. (Charts courtesy NRCS)

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email ehasenbeck@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.

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