Snowpack in the mountains reinforced by recent storms, but we need more to get back to average


After a long period of dry and uneventful weather, things have certainly changed quickly. The snowpack across Colorado has increased significantly since the recent series of storms.

Prior to December 7, the statewide snowpack was around 54% of normal. The number has now risen to over 70% of normal with several pools above it.

Snowpack is the all-important number that is tracked in Colorado river basins, as the amount of snow the mountains receive is directly correlated with the amount of water injected into the rivers that provide drinking water to the locations in downstream.

Colorado Statewide Snowpack 121521 – USDA

There are eight watersheds that are monitored in Colorado and each has dozens of Snotel weather stations that track things like the snowpack.

Here is the change that each watershed experienced from December 7 to 14:

Yampa / White / Small Snake: 20 percentage points moreLaramie and North Platte: 14 percentage points moreSouth Platte: 7 percentage points moreColorado Sources: 19 percentage points moreGunnison: 36 percentage points moreArkansas: 22 percentage points moreUpper Rio Grande: 30 percentage points moreSan Juan / Delores / Animas: 50 percentage points more

Overall, that means we’ve gained around 20 percentage points of the snowpack that we should have at this time of year. The most noticeable increases you’ll find are near Telluride, Silverton, and Durango where past storms have really brought down some humidity. The Gunnison and Upper Rio Grande watersheds have also seen a sharp increase in the number of snowpack.

With the statewide average still far below normal, we still need active weather and wet storms to get us back to normal, but at least we’re at a better stage than where we were earlier this month.

Although some stations are reporting near average conditions, many stations are still operating very low. By examining the data from all the substations in each watershed, you will notice where the local deficits are most noticeable.

Colorado Substation Snowpack, December 15, 2021 – USDA

Areas near Cuchara and Westcliffe are struggling in terms of snowpack, as well as areas near Pikes Peak and Bailey. Conversely, the Lower Gunnison and Uncompahgre perform at or above average.

There is a story to tell for each basin, but when you look at the big picture, all of Colorado needs more moisture to bring it back to normal. The forecast calls for a few sets of snow to move across the state ahead of the Christmas holidays, which should help push the numbers up a bit further.

Andy Stein is an independent meteorologist.


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