Thursday, May 2, 2013

Spring Snowstorms Bring Snowpack Levels Back to Long-term Averages

The snowstorm that socked the Rocky Mountains yesterday dumped nearly 20 inches of snow at Bear Lake. This storm, along with one other major and several smaller storms during the month of April, brought some much needed drought relief, and possibly fire relief later this summer and fall.

As recently as April 7th, the Bear Lake SNOTEL was reporting that the 2013 water year, which runs from October 1st through September 30th, was 6.7 inches below the average year-to-date total precipitation amount (all forms of precipitation from 1981-2010). As of yesterday, the gap was only 2 inches of precipitation (20.8" current levels versus 22.8" average). However, according to an April 15th posting on the Rocky Mountain National Park Facebook page, the park "missed a week during the Fern Lake Fire of taking measurements this year", which means the data from the Bear Lake SNOTEL is possibly not "an exact measurement". Meaning, the gap could be even smaller.

Judging from other SNOTEL sites in and around Rocky Mountain National Park, this appears to be the case:

* The SNOTEL at Lake Irene (near Milner Pass) is reporting 24.6 inches of precipitation this water year, which surpasses the long-term average of 24.2 inches.

* The SNOTEL at Wild Basin (SE corner of park) is reporting 18.1 inches of precipitation this water year, versus an average of 18.4 inches.

* The SNOTEL at Stillwater Creek (near Granby) is reporting 12.0 inches of precipitation this water year, just below the average of 12.2 inches.

* The SNOTEL in the Never Summer Mountains is reporting 21.8 inches of Snow Water Equivalent (SWE), which is the weight of snow water equivalent to inches of water. I had to use this measurement because the website couldn't report on the long-term averages for precipitation amounts for this location. The SWE for the Never Summer location matched the long-term average for May 2nd.

To get an idea of how much improvement has occurred in the precipitation amounts at Lake Irene this past month, take a look at the chart below. The blue line represents the long-term average, while the red line represents the current water year:


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