North side of Vail Mountain, and Vail Valley.
North side of Vail Mountain, and Vail Valley. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some much needed snow fell across Colorado over the weekend, but we still need more moisture. We phoned the Colorado Climate center this morning to see if the recent snow has changed anything yet for the state– as Noah Newman said, “every year we’re always dependent on a few storms like this, if we miss out on more it puts us in jeopardy.”

The New York Times shared the gravity of that jeopardy with the nation last Friday, reminding us that thin snowpack foretells another summer of drought and wildfire. Read the full article here or browse the beginning below. Want to learn more about wildfire and drought? Check out CFWE’s Water 101 Fact Sheets.

Lakes are half full and mountain snows are thin, omens of another summer of drought and wildfire. Complicating matters, many of the worst-hit states have even less water on hand than a year ago, raising the specter of shortages and rationing that could inflict another year of losses on struggling farms.

Reservoir levels have fallen sharply in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. The soil is drier than normal. And while a few recent snowstorms have cheered skiers, the snowpack is so thin in parts of Colorado that the government has declared an “extreme drought” around the ski havens of Vail and Aspen.

“We’re worse off than we were a year ago,” said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center.

This week’s blizzard brought a measure of relief to the Plains when it dumped more than a foot of snow. But it did not change the basic calculus for forecasters and officials in the drought-scarred West. Ranchers are straining to find hay — it is scarce and expensive — to feed cattle. And farmers are fretting about whether they will have enough water to irrigate their fields.

“It’s approaching a critical situation,” said Mike Hungenberg, who grows carrots and cabbage on a 3,000-acre farm in Northern Colorado. There is so little water available this year, he said, that he may scale back his planting by a third, and sow less thirsty crops, like beans.

“A year ago we went into the spring season with most of the reservoirs

full,” Mr. Hungenberg said. “This year, you’re going in with basically everything empty.”

National and state forecasters — some of whom now end phone calls by saying, “Pray for snow” — do have some hope. An especially wet springtime could still spare the Western plains and mountains and prime the soil for planting. But forecasts are murky: They predict warmer weather and less precipitation across the West over the next three months but say the Midwest could see more rain than usual.

Water experts get more nervous with each passing day.

“We’re running out of time,” said Andy Pineda of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. “We only have a month or two, and we are so far behind it’s going to take storms of epic amounts just to get us back to what we would think of as normal.”

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3 thoughts on “Colorado’s Thin Snowpack

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