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CO Snowpack Levels Show A State Divided

PHOTO: The Dolores River drains a 4,500 square-mile area in southwest Colorado, where snowpacks are about 90 percent of normal. Basins in other parts of the state are as much as 140 percent of average. Credit: Mark Duggan.
PHOTO: The Dolores River drains a 4,500 square-mile area in southwest Colorado, where snowpacks are about 90 percent of normal. Basins in other parts of the state are as much as 140 percent of average. Credit: Mark Duggan.
February 24, 2014

DENVER - The latest measurements of Colorado's high-country snowpacks show a stark contrast, depending on location. The central and northern mountains have been hit with a series of potent winter storms, but a lot less snow has fallen in the southern part of the state.

Despite the diminished snowpack in the south, said Mage Hultstrand, who measures Colorado's snowpack for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, this winter has been generous with moisture.

"The last two water years were below normal," she said, "so this is a great turnaround to see an above-normal year after two drought years."

According to the latest USDA data, snowpack levels range from 142 percent of normal in the South Platte River basin to 82 percent of normal in the Upper Rio Grande.

Snowpack measured in February can give scientists a sense of what runoff will be like in the spring. However, Hultstrand, assistant snow survey supervisor for the USDA's Colorado Snow Survey Program. pointed out that 20 percent of Colorado's annual snowpack comes in March, so basins currently running at a deficit could recover quickly, "especially if the weather patterns they've seen this past month continue.

"The southwest portion of the state, and then also the Upper Rio Grande basins, both received well above normal accumulation during end of January, early part of February," she said. "They just need another couple of storms like that and they'll be right back to normal conditions."

Colorado's snowpack is monitored by a network of more than 100 sensors. They keep track of more than just depth. Hultstrand said they also measure overall moisture content of the snow.

A state snowpack map is online here.

Mark Duggan, Public News Service - CO