Lakewood- While Colorado has seen plenty of cold temperatures this winter, the state′s snowpack has lagged below the long-term average for most of the season. According to the latest survey, conducted by the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the state′s snowpack registered only 86 percent of average on January 1. This is the lowest statewide snowpack percentage measured on January 1 since 2003. In that year, the state′s snowpack was 85 percent of average, according to Allen Green, State Conservationist, with the NRCS.
While snowfall during December was near average across most of the state, those totals pale in comparison to those measured during the previous two Decembers. In each of those years, snowpack percentages climbed from well below average to well above average with just a few sizable storms. Without receiving those storms this season, the state′s snowpack falls short in comparison to those years. This year′s snowpack is only 72 percent of that measured last year on January 1, and is only about 80 percent of the January 1, 2008 readings.
Snowpack readings are below average in all of Colorado′s major river basins. Percents of average range from a low of 74 percent in the Yampa and White River basins, to a high of 97 percent of average in the combined San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel River basins.
While this winter′s snowpack remains slightly below average across most of the state, there remains time to improve on these conditions before the maximum snowpack is reached in the spring. On average, by January 1 Colorado has only received about 40 percent of the maximum seasonal total snowpack. That leaves 60 percent of the winter accumulation season still ahead. "Given our current conditions, we need to receive about 110 percent of average snowfall from now until mid-April to reach our average maximum totals", said Green.
With nearly 80 percent of the state′s annual surface water supplies originating from the melting winter snowpack these readings are important for water users who need to plan for this year′s heavy water-use season in the spring and summer. Based on these snowpack readings the NRCS is forecasting runoff to be slightly below average across most of the state this year. The lowest runoff expectations are confined to those rivers and streams in northwestern Colorado. Runoff volumes in most of these basins range from 70 to 90 percent of average.
For the most part, reservoir storage across Colorado is in good shape, with near average volumes in storage across most of the state. Only the combined San Juan, Animas, Dolores, and San Miguel basins and the Rio Grande Basin are reporting below normal volumes.