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Old 04-06-2008   #1
Join Date: Apr 2004
Posts: 45
Snow Water Equivalent 2008

The NRCS monitors snow pack in the arid West for water content, or snow water equivalent (SWE). They basically have gages that weigh the snow all over the mountains. The update graphs <NRCS National Water and Climate Center - SNOTEL Data Network - SNOTEL Data - All Sensors - SWE Update Graph> are interesting summaries of the basin wide snow pack. This gives a good idea if it will be a good runoff year. However, the data are also interesting because they are comparisons of snow pack for a specific date. So as this cold April weather continues, and runoff is held back longer and longer, the percentage of SWE in late April and May might increase, compared to other years when runoff started earlier.

You can also look up the specific gages, if you know which one is in your faviorite basin <SNOTEL Maps>. Once you know your gage, you can look up the specific graph and get an idea of not only how much water there is, but also if the peak flows will be higher than normal because the melt is later than usual <NWCC - SNOTEL Water Year Graph (SWE and Precipitation)>. Generally the later the melt starts past the average peak, the steeper the runoff curve is on the backside, resulting in higher peak flows.

This graph is of McClure Pass and represents the North Fork of the Gunny and the Crystal River. Normally melt would start to occur this second week of April and last year it was two weeks earlier than that. Remember that precipitation is snow and rain, but SWE is snowpack on the ground. GET READY!!!
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Old 04-06-2008   #2
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SE, Wyoming
Paddling Since: 1986
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 1,098
Good explanation!

Thanks for the good write-up on the SNOTEL data bank online.

I use it a lot to plan trips and to make last-minute calls. Being able to display the graphs for several years on the same page is particularly cool.
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