Dry, warm March worries Colorado snowpack watchers
April 7, 2017
Snowpack and reservoir storage
Basin % of median % of last year % of average reservoir storage % of last year’s average reservoir storage
Gunnison 125 130 116 115
Colorado 105 99 108 111
South Platte 103 98 106 109
North Platte 106 97 — —
Yampa/White 86 79 122 120
Arkansas 118 128 101 120
Rio Grande 108 134 100 94
SMDASJ* 121 147 124 105
Statewide 108 110 110 112
*Combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan Basins
After a wet December and January, Mother Nature has Colorado snowpack watchers concerned.
"The recent dry spell that we've had — recent being February and March — is a bit on the concerning side," said Brian Domonkos, Colorado Snow Survey supervisor. "It is comforting to know that we had great snow going into the dry spell, but to see some of that early melt-off seems to make runoff less efficient."
March saw unseasonably dry and warm weather in the mountains, prompting some early snowmelt and bringing a hint of caution to what had been optimistic forecasts about the state's snowpack.
Mountain snowfall melts in the warmer months and provides most of Weld County's water. In the two basins that feed Weld its water, snowpack totals also were above normal. In the Colorado River basin, snowpack was 105 percent of normal on April 1 and 99 percent of last year's snowpack. Those numbers are down dramatically from the beginning of March, when snowpack was 135 percent of normal and of last year's snowpack.
In the South Platte basin, snowpack was 103 percent of normal and 98 percent of last year's total at the start of April. Reservoir storage for the Colorado basin was 108 percent of average and 111 percent of last year's average reservoir storage. In the South Platte, reservoir storage was 106 percent of average and 109 percent of last year.
Domonkos said Colorado stream flow forecasts are normal to slightly above normal. In the South Platte stream flow forecasts are below normal. He said because all the numbers are so close to their norms, he isn't concerned about any abnormal risk of flooding this year. Still, the weather in Colorado is unpredictable.
"Colorado and the Front Range are heavily driven by spring precipitation, which can come in the form of rain," he said. "There are a lot of rain events that have driven some very high flows in the past, and it's not always snow-related."
Ultimately, he said, it's important to keep an eye on precipitation in the coming months. That will tell how the state's water picture is shaping up for the summer.
"We're really at a pivotal point here," he said. "March and April are the two months in which we receive the most precip. Starting off with a short March is not a good start, and then you have to rely a little bit more on April and those following months. On the heels of such a good snowpack, it certainly makes it interesting."