Unusually wet January boosts Colorado snowpack, brightens water outlook | MyWindsorNow.com
Nate A. Miller
nmiller@greeleytribune.com

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Unusually wet January boosts Colorado snowpack, brightens water outlook

Mother nature was kind to Colorado water users in the first month of the year.

Snowfall in January on the state's mountains more than doubled its normal amount. This helped boost the state's snowpack into healthy territory. Mountain snowfall melts in the warmer months and provides much of Weld County's water.

"It's definitely been a very interesting pattern this season," said Karl Wuetlaufer, assistant snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. "We did have a notably late start to the snow accumulation season."

The significant snowfall in January boosted the state's snowpack to 157 percent of average on Feb. 1 from 114 percent of average on Jan. 1, according to data released this month by the Natural Resource Conservation Service. In the river basins that affect Weld, the Colorado and South Platte, snowpack also jumped. In the Colorado basin it hit 154 percent of average on Feb. 1, up from 117 on Jan. 1. In the South Platte basin, snowpack hit 156 percent of average on Feb. 1, up from 105 percent of average.

The water year, which began Oct. 1, got off to a slow start, worrying water experts. What little precipitation fell came in the form of rain, and warm autumn temperatures prevented snow from accumulating in all but the highest elevations. From the beginning of the water year through Nov. 17, statewide snowpack was off to its worst start in more than 30 years at 6 percent of average, according to a news release from the conservation service.

As temperatures cooled in the late fall and early winter, however, snow began to accumulate in the mountains. The unusually wet January further boosted the snowpack and brightened the state's water outlook.

"We're definitely positioned very well for having ample water supply this year," he said, noting that statewide as of Feb. 1 the snowpack had already hit 93 percent of its normal peak value for the entire season. That mark is usually hit in the first weeks of April. "We have already achieved near a normal peak value. That's what you could think of as in the bank."

Additionally, reservoir storage looks strong, the South Platte and Colorado river basins were at 105 percent of average reservoir storage on Feb. 1.

He said the state would only need to see 19 percent of its normal mountain snowfall over the next couple of months to achieve a normal snowpack.

"We'll likely have ample water supply. The flipside is if we do continue to build more and more snowpack and it gets bigger, then it becomes more of a concern of flooding," he said. "There's a lot of winter left and a lot can happen, but we do have a pretty substantial snowpack for this time of year."

Basin/% of median/% of last year/% of average reservoir storage/Last year’s % of reservoir storage

Gunnison/171/148/108/108

Colorado/154/136/105/109

South Platte/156/147/105/104

North Platte/137/141/–/–

Yampa/White/128/115/121/121

Arkansas/164/148/99/125

Rio Grande/154/140/89/90

SMDASJ*/169/138/115/103

Statewide/157/139/105/109

Totals as of Feb. 1.

* The combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and Sa