A classic comeback for Old Man Winter

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A classic comeback for Old Man Winter

Date: 04/10/2024     Category: News & Media     Author: Scott Condon     Publication: Aspen Daily News    

Original Post ➡️

A high mountain valley beneath Chair Mountain drains snowmelt into Rapid Creek, a tributary to the Crystal River, in this image from April 3. The Crystal River joins the Roaring Fork River in Carbondale. This view was from a flight provided by EcoFlight. Austin Corona/Aspen Daily News

Old Man Winter pulled off an impressive comeback in the Roaring Fork Valley and much of the Colorado mountains this season.

The snowpack for the Aspen-area mountains was about 46% below the 30-year median after a dry November and was about 35% below in December, according to Sam Collentine, a Basalt-based chief operating officer and meteorologist for OpenSnow.com.

Conditions improved slightly in January when the snowpack ended up 3% above the 30-year median for the month, despite a dry stretch for a good share of the month. Conditions finally flipped in February, when the snowpack was 20% above median, and especially in March, which ended at plus 74%.

“It was an inconsistent start with a consistent end,” Collentine said in summary of the season.

The season started with a lot of promise with two big snowstorms in October that established an impressive base. But, as is typical for Colorado, conditions dried out in November and into December.

“If we didn’t have the two big storms in October, we would have been in big trouble come mid-winter,” Collentine said.

The average peak snowpack typically occurs during the first week of April and that appears to be the case this winter. A chart provided by Collentine shows that the snowpack at Aspen Highlands struggled to stay just below average from mid-December until late-March, when a series of storms with wet, heavy snow boosted the snow-water equivalent in the local snowpack.
AspenWeather.com, an Aspen-focused forecasting service, reported Aspen Highlands collected 98.6 inches of snow at the Northwood’s sensor during March. That is 179% of normal.

Snowmass collected 94.6 inches of snow in March, or 172% of normal. Aspen Mountain recorded just shy of 86 inches or 175% of normal, according to Aspen Weather.

This graph shows how Aspen Highlands struggled to stick close to average snowpack until soaring above in late March after a series of wet snowstorms.Courtesy of OpenSnow

OpenSnow’s Collentine took a look for snowfall at the Aspen-Snowmass ski areas for Oct. 1 into early April and found Aspen Highlands nosed out Snowmass with 312 inches to 310 inches. Highlands finished the season at 105% of the 30-year median while Snowmass was at 101%. Aspen Mountain recorded 257 inches or 107% of median while Buttermilk was at 161 inches and 106%.

Warmer than average temperatures were forecasted for the winter due to El Niño conditions. Forecasters had also said to expect around average snowfall totals. That’s exactly what happened, though the snowfall was skewed toward the last half of the season.

The 10 automated Snotel sites operated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service in the Roaring Fork basin showed variable snowpack conditions at the headwaters of the Roaring Fork, Frying Pan and Crystal rivers this winter. The Independence Pass site and McClure Pass struggled to top 100% of average snowpack until late in the season. As of Tuesday, the Independence Pass snowpack was at 108% of average while McClure Pass was at 101%. The sites up the Frying Pan remained above average all winter. Ivanhoe was at 131% of average on Tuesday; Kiln was at 120%; and Nast was at 105%.

As a whole, the Roaring Fork basin’s snowpack was at 115% of median on Tuesday.

Collentine noted that conditions around Aspen were similar to those in the Upper Colorado River Basin and the state as a whole. The Upper Colorado Basin, which the Roaring Fork is part of, is at 106% of the 30-year median and the statewide snowpack is at 108%.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service released its latest Colorado Water Supply Outlook Report on Tuesday.

“March was an exceptionally wet month, with several significant storms delivering above normal precipitation to all major basins across the state, boosting snowpack and streamflow forecasts for the upcoming snowmelt-runoff season,” the report said.

The big boost to snowpack came from a significant storm March 13-15, which affected other areas more than the Roaring Fork Valley. The March storms brought improvement to the streamflow forecasts for the spring and early summer.

“As we pivot towards the primary runoff period, the current forecasts show an overall picture of optimism as the runoff season begins,” the NRCS reported.

The current streamflow forecast for the Frying Pan River is 118% of median at Ruedi Reservoir, east of Basalt. The NRCS reported that Ruedi held just over 69,000 acre feet at the end of March. The median for that date is 65,600 acre-feet, so it is currently about 105% of median.

Colorado Snow Survey Supervisor Brian Domonkos summed up the winter as decent but not particularly noteworthy.

“I can say that the snowpack (in the Roaring Fork River Basin) tracked quite close to normal this year until about March 1 and then after March 1 we got a little bit of a boost,” Domonkos said. “I wouldn’t say it’s anything really to write home about but it was relatively close to normal.”