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New Year begins with good snowpack

DENVER-Although recent weather conditions across lower elevations may appear to be dry, Colorado′s high country has received above normal snowfall this winter in most basins.  According to the latest snow surveys, conducted by the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Colorado′s snowpack is well ahead of the long-term average.  In addition, the current snowpack far exceeds that measured last year at this same time in most basins.  As of January 1, Colorado′s statewide snowpack was 136% of average and was 159% of last year′s readings, according to Allen Green, State Conservationist, with the NRCS.  This is the highest January 1 snowpack measured since 1997, when the state boasted an overall snowpack of 160% of average.

    For portions of the state, this season′s snowpack began building slowly.  Accumulations across southern Colorado were at disappointing levels just a few weeks ago.  With the San Juan, Animas, Dolores, and San Miguel basins at only 57 percent of average back on December 16, 2010, it appeared that southern Colorado would be facing a dry winter which would have been a major concern for water users in those areas.  Then, the Pacific storm track shifted further south and brought a series of moisture laden storms across California and the southern tier of states.  In a matter of just a couple of weeks, snowpack percentages increased from well below average to well above average across southern Colorado.  In the San Juan, Animas, Dolores, and San Miguel basins, snowpack percentages increased to 140 percent of average by December 31.  At one automated snow measuring site (SNOTEL) on Coal Bank Pass north of Durango, these storms delivered an additional 16.7 inches of liquid water equivalent.  The snow depth at this site increased by 78 inches during these storms.

    Although northern Colorado didn′t benefit from the December storms as much as the southern basins, the storm track has been much more consistent and productive throughout the season.  Snowpack totals in these basins are consistently above average, ranging from 126 percent of average in the South Platte Basin, to 147 percent of average in both the Colorado and North Platte basins. 

    The current snowpack far exceeds that measured last year in all of the state′s major river basins.  This is especially true across northern Colorado where this year′s snowpack has almost doubled last year′s readings on January 1.  "This is a welcome start to the year for Colorado′s water users, and we′re hoping these conditions remain with us for the next few months", said Green.

    Reservoir storage remains in good condition across most of the state.  Only the Rio Grande Basin has dipped significantly below average for this time of year.

    For the Arkansas Basin, the average snowpack is at 105 percent.  At his time last year, snowpack was at 116 percent.  Reservoir storage for the Arkansas Basin is at 93 percent; last year at this time it was at 92 percent.