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Better News From Winter’s First Snowpack Survey

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(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

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SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – Scientists say recent winter storms could be a sign of a bounce back after a dry start to the season.

The scientists performed the first snow survey of the winter on Monday.

Dillon Reservoir is the second largest water supply for Denver, and right now it’s more than 25 feet below its capacity. Reservoirs state wide are around 67 percent of normal due to this year’s drought. Reservoirs were at about 105 percent of normal a year ago.

“So today we’re doing our Jan. 1, first of the year, snow course measurement at Berthoud Pass,” said Mage Hultstrand, Assistant Snow Survey Supervisor.

It’s a three-person team from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Their job is to hike into remote mountain ranges and simply measure the snow.

“We covered an area to get a good representation,” Hultstrand said.

No high-tech instruments are used — just a metal tube, a scale, paper and a pencil.

“Aa large percent of our spring and summer runoff come typically from the snowpack,” Hultstrand said.

After a surprisingly snowy month of December, snowpack depth has rebounded, but it still sits at about 70 percent of average.

“We need a good year, we need an average or an above average year,” Hultstrand said. “We depleted our reservoirs pretty good.”

The crew mainly uses the information gathered on Monday and compares it with other data to create an equation to forecast runoff.

“This is the best indicator of where we’re going to be for our reservoir storage and stream flow come spring and summer.”

While the snowpack depth is returning closer to normal, one thing found out on Monday’s survey is that the moisture content in the snow is just a little bit above 50 percent of normal. That’s going to be the real key to filling the reservoirs back up.

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