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Environment

Record May Means Colorado's Snowpack Is Still Hanging On

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Karl Wetlaufer
/
Colorado Snow Survey
Current numbers show that much of the state has over 150 percent of normal snowpack. Keep in mind this is a historical comparison to what you would see in June, when there normally isn't much snow left on the ground.

Colorado's snowpack continues to be the bright spot in the western U.S., thanks to historic precipitation in May. The South Platte River basin, which provides water for much of the Front Range and plains has the highest snowpack in the state.

A high June snowpack does have some dangers though.

"Now's the time of year, in combination with still having snow high up in the mountains with the increasing temperatures and the increased probability of having rain on snow events, that's when really large, fast flood events can potentially happen," said Karl Wetlaufer, a hydrologist with the Colorado Snow Survey Program.

Much of the May precipitation fell as snow rather than rain in the mountains, making the melt slower. That mitigates the flood danger, and helps water resource managers who are having to begin to release water from reservoirs early.

Not only did much of the state receive record or near record May precipitation, but there were only three recorded dust on snow events, all in April. A natural phenomenon, dust on snow happens when a major wind event in the Southwest kicks up large amounts of dust into the upper atmosphere. The wind carries it to Colorado, where it is deposited on the snowpack.

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Credit Jackie Fortier / KUNC
/
KUNC
Many streams and rivers like the Cache La Poudre in Windsor pictured above, are continuing to run higher than normal. Taken May 7, 2015.

"And then once the snow begins to melt and those dust layers become exposed, they retain a lot more solar radiation and can really accelerate snowmelt," Wetlaufer said.

"This is definitely the least amount of observed dust on snow events that we've seen since we began tracking it about 10 years ago… It's definitely unusual, but I think it is very beneficial to our whole hydrologic system with respect to conserving water because having those dust layers in the snowpack can really accelerate snowmelt and contribute to flood events as well."

Current numbers show that much of the state has over 150 percent of normal snowpack – keep in mind this is a historical comparison to what you would see in June, when there normally isn't much snow left on the ground.

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Credit Karl Wetlaufer / Colorado Snow Survey
/
Colorado Snow Survey

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