Snowfall on pace to make dent in drought conditions

by Dalton Carver

Only a little more than halfway through the winter season, the Uncompahgre Basin is above its annual average of snowfall, but any let-up could be trouble for Ouray County in the summer months.
Up to Jan. 21, the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center has recorded snowfall in the Ouray County area at about 105 percent of annual average with about half of the winter season remaining. That’s a massive shift from snowfall figures at this time last winter, which were sitting at just 50 percent of average.
“It’s been a good start. It’s totally different than last year,” said Greg Smith, a senior hydrologist at CRBFC. “We’re essentially double what we were last year at this time. In some areas, we’ve received more snow than we received all of last winter.”
CRBFC typically measures and reports winter figures considering the amount of water content contained within the total amount of snowfall, known as snow water equivalent (SWE). For those wanting a more direct translation to the more commonly used inches, a good rule of thumb is to remember 10 inches of snow is nearly equivalent to one inch of water.
Looking at SNOTEL sites in the area, Smith said, some of those locations’ average peak snowfall has already been met and exceeded. At the Idarado SNOTEL site, about 9,800 feet in elevation, about seven inches of SWE has been received, or about 70 total inches of snow since the season began. Last year at this time, the Idarado site had received only about 4.5 inches of SWE and peaked at 8.5 inches for the season. The average amount of SWE Idarado receives on an annual basis is about seven inches.
The SNOTEL site at Red Mountain Pass is faring even better, with about 13.8 inches of SWE in the snowpack as of Jan. 21. The area’s normal SWE is about 12.3 inches, and last year it received only about seven inches.
Considering the SNOTEL site figures, Smith said the area is at about 55 percent of its average annual snowfall peak that is usually recorded in mid-April. None of these figures are accounting for the snowfall the area enjoyed throughout Jan. 22, so the conditions could be even better at the time of publication. Even though the area is a little more than half its average peak, Smith said the threat of...

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