Colorado’s snowpack dips, despite snowfall on the Front Range

Colorado began the month with a strong snowpack surplus on the Western Slope, which experts say the parched state desperately needs, but that lead slipped in recent weeks.

Aside from the northeast portion of the state, snowpack levels shrank for every other area in Colorado between Jan. 5 and Wednesday, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

In the southwest corner of the state, that lead shrunk by as much as 28%.

“Even though we had a great month or so, that didn’t give us the peak for the whole year,” Russ Schumacher, director of the Colorado Climate Center, said. “We still need a lot more snow.”

Most of the state’s snowpack remains above normal levels for this time of the year but Schumacher and Climatologist Becky Bolinger of Colorado State University said more is needed in the coming weeks and months.

Snowpack data shows that levels around Gunnison and Ouray sit at 123% of normal levels, down from 148% earlier this month. Snowpack around Durango sits at 109% of normal, down from 137%.

Levels around Aspen and Glenwood Springs are 117% of normal, down from 124% and the area around Steamboat Springs sits at 107%, down from 115%.

Snowpack around Denver rose over the month from 110% of normal to 114%.

Even if most of the state’s snowpack isn’t as high as it was at the turn of the year neither Schumacher nor Bolinger said they’re panicking. But both will be watching for more snow in February and March to help refill low water levels on the Colorado River and to improve drought conditions across the state.

Continual, above-average snowpack and precipitation must continue through the Spring to recharge Colorado’s soils and streams, left dry by severe drought in recent years.

Recent snowfall, including winter storms Tuesday and Thursday on the Front Range will likely improve the state’s drought conditions as well, Bollinger said. But it isn’t nearly enough to recover entirely.

Bolinger said she measured 4.5 inches of snow in her backyard earlier this week but that only translates to perhaps half an inch of moisture accumulation because Colorado’s snow is so powdery.

“We need to see a longer, sustained recovery over just a couple of events,” Bolinger said.

Schumacher said more snow can be expected next week and he’ll be watching to see how much falls.

“We’re still in La Niña conditions, which tend to be warm and dry in the Spring,” Schumacher said. “That’s what we don’t want to happen, to have all the snow fall in late December and early January and then not much after that.”

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