Everyone is talking about the dry winter. I hear a lot of comments from folks pretending that this winter is not unusual and that we’ll get plenty of snow in March and don’t worry. I’m not buying it.
National Resources Conservation Service and the Colorado Snotel sites have a lot of data, but I think you have to know more than I do to really understand what they are saying. Another approach is to find some clues as to what might be happening, then look at the Snotel data to make an informed statement about how dry this winter is. A good starting point is here:
This paper shows that the answer to “how dry is it?” is complicated and defies a simple answer but, in general, from this paper you can learn that 60-70 % of average is very dry. Also, you can say that since the Dust Bowl (1930-1940), there have been three very dry periods in Colorado. They are 1974-1977 including the dries winter on record in ’76-77, fall 1980-the end of summer 1981, and of course 2002, a year many of us remember from the Ark peaking for a day or 2 at 500 cfs in May, and the Hayman and many other fires.
Then check out this Aspen times article. Snowpack at 71 percent of 30-year average | AspenTimes.com
that quotes NRCS:
“This is the fourth-lowest Jan. 1 snowpack measured on the last 30 years and the lowest since Jan. 1, 2002, when the snowpack was at 65 percent of average,” the conservation service, the federal agency that conducts the Colorado Snow Survey, said in a statement.
A NRCS website has snowpack maps for years 2012 back to 1994. It is interesting to compare the 2002 (big dry year) with 2012 so far.
The 2002 map shows most of the high country 70-90% of average snowfall, but with extreme dryness, (less than 50%) at lower elevations. This compares with the current (2012) map that shows the high country at 50-70% of average with lower elevations at 70-90% (or more) and remarkably, much of summit County at less than 50%. Check it out here:
Access Snowpack Maps | Colorado NRCS
Now, if you want to delve into the plethora of Snotel data for your particular powder stash, Snow - All Products | Colorado NRCS
) be my guest. My conclusion is that with the snowpack this low at the end of January, we ain’t coming back to anywhere near a normal year.
One year doesn’t make a trend, but let’s hope this isn’t a new normal.