Western Slope snowpack rises above average but forecast for eastern plains remains “bleak”

Snowfall in western Colorado elevated some snowpack levels to above-average conditions but that snowy weather must continue for it to recharge the parched soil, diminishing streams and low reservoir levels, climate data shows.

While the Western Slope is in much better shape than it was in early December, Becky Bolinger, a climatologist with Colorado State University, said the eastern portion of the state hasn’t been so fortunate. There, wildfire risk persists and crops and livestock could suffer from the lack of moisture, she said.

“When you get into the lower elevations and onto the plains I think it does turn into a more bleak picture,” Bolinger said.

But for the time being at least snowpack levels on the Western Slope, which feed into the Colorado River, is moving in the right direction, Bolinger said.

Data collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service shows that snowpack Gunnison and Ouray sit at 114% of normal levels. Snowpack around Durango also rose to 107% of normal levels

“You really can’t ignore that those levels were abysmal at the beginning of December,” Bolinger said. “In the San Juan Basin (around Durango) it was at like 26% of average on December 7.”

Snowpack along the northern mountains is faring better as well, the data shows. Levels around Aspen and Glenwood Springs are 98% of normal and the area around Steamboat Springs sits at 94% of normal.

The snowfall, which really started in mid-December, is just a precursor to what Bolinger calls the “bread and butter months” of January and February when the trend must continue.

“If you’re not getting half an inch of moisture every week you can start to fall behind,” she said.

Really, the state must continue to see above-average snowpack through the spring to “recharge” the dry soils, refill dwindling streams and restock low reservoirs, Bolinger said.

The eastern portion of the state remains a concern, Bolinger said. Snowfall has been sparse around Alamosa, the Front Range and out on the plains. Those areas coincide with large swathes of “severe” and “extreme” drought, tracked by the National Drought Mitigation Center.

“And I envision it’ll probably get worse before it gets better,” Bolinger said.

Current forecasts from the National Weather Service show little to no chance of snow or rain this week on Colorado’s eastern plains.

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