Area snowpack holding steady for winter season

94 percent of average as of March 23

As March winds down, the Gunnison Basin’s snowpack stands at 94 percent of average, according to data provided by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) on March 23. The NRCS collects the data from various SNOTEL sites around the state, as well as manual surveys that are conducted at the end of each month from February 1 through May 1. SNOTEL is an automated system of snowpack and related climate sensors operated by the NRCS.





According to Mike Gillespie, NRCS snow survey supervisor, precipitation over the next 30 days will be key in determining reservoir storage and water supplies for the upcoming summer and fall. Last year’s storms in late March and early April brought the snowpack in the Gunnison Basin from below average to above average. Gillespie said that stretch saw some of the most significant storm cycles of the season.
How that same stretch this year will pan out remains to be seen. “There is some hope that the El Niño storm track might move to the north, which will help those basins that are below average right now, especially those northern basins in the state,” Gillespie said. “There’s a tilt in the odds, maybe a 55 percent chance.”
According to Gillespie, “In the last stream flow forecast from March 1, the runoff forecasts were all below average, a little bit less than what the snowpack percentages were. The inflow into the Blue Mesa reservoir was at 79 percent of average… one of the lower forecasts in the basin. Over on the Uncompahgre things were looking a little better, with Ridgway’s [reservoir] at 86 percent of average.”
If the late-season storms don’t come, Gillespie said to prepare for below-average water supplies. “Snowfall over the next 30 days will make or break this season.”

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