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Colorado's snowpack: Above average but not as high as last year

March 2020 is off to a slow start, especially compared to last year.

COLORADO, USA — The snow that’s been accumulating in the Colorado high country this winter is not as high as last year, but it’s still above average, especially in the Front Range mountains. That is making water managers from Denver Water happy.

Denver Water said its reservoirs are all about 5% fuller than they normally are this time of year, and the water in the current snowpack is already up to 96% of peak.

“And that’s just a fancy way of saying, we’re almost to the top amount of water in the snow," said Todd Hartman, a spokesperson with Denver Water. "We usually don’t see that until come sometime in April. Here we are on March 9th and we are already close to that peak amount of water in the snow. So we do have some reason to feel pretty good, but of course we will still be rooting for a good March and April.”

RELATED: Snow Blog: More active period coming to Colorado

The first week of March 2020 is off to a slow start. The statewide snowpack measurment has fallen close to average, but distribution of that snow is very uneven. The southeastern part of the state is below average and the north part is above.

Fortunately for Denver, the part of the mountains that we get our water from is the highest in the state.  

Credit: KUSA
Colorado Snowpack as of March 9, 2020

This is a stark contrast to last March, when Colorado got record amounts of snow. That lead to an avalanche cycle that was described as ‘historic’ by the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. You may remember some of those snow slides even hit the highways.

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RELATED: Backcountry skier killed in 'massive' avalanche

Credit: KUSA
Controlled avalanche crossing I-70. CDOT triggered it on the Big Sam avalanche chute in Ten Mile Canyon - March 2019

"That March was highly unusual. It was 275% of average in our collection area. We'll take those big ones when they come, but we don't depend on them happening," said Hartman. "We are always planning for a situation that we may not have sufficient snowpack."

Hartman said this season it was February that came through for them with 200% of average snowpack. He said that was very near a record for that month. 

RELATED: How snowpack is measured and how to read the map

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The summer monsoon season was not very active in 2019, and that left the Colorado mountains with well below average precipitation from July to October. Hartman said that will impact how some of the runoff reaches our rivers. 

"Even when we have a good strong snowpack, the first client is going to be the soil. We do expect to have some soil moisture challenges ahead because of that dry period last year," said Hartman. 

He said that despite that issue, the early stream flow forecasts are good for the Denver Water system, ranging between 100-132% of average.  

Denver Water said it can’t tell for sure yet if the reservoirs will fill all the way up this summer, until the snowpack does reach that peak. That usually happens by about the second week of April.


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