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Throughout the history of the American West, water issues have shown their ability to both unite and divide communities. As an imbalance between water supplies and demands grows in the region, KUNC is committed to covering the stories that emerge.

Thanksgiving Storms Provide Big Boost To Colorado Snowpack

Luke Runyon
Snow falls on Colorado's Berthoud Pass in January 2018.

Colorado’s mountains were served a thick dollop of snow in back-to-back storms that covered nearly the entire state during the Thanksgiving holiday. 

While the snow made travel close to impossible, grounding planes and closing roads, the additional moisture erased deficits in the headwaters of some of the region’s most important rivers. 

Credit USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service
Snowpack in every major river basin in Colorado is higher than the long-term average.

Snowpack in every major river basin in Colorado is currently above average. Mountains that serve as the headwaters for the San Juan, Animas, Dolores, Rio Grande, and Gunnison rivers saw the greatest increases from the storms. On the Monday before Thanksgiving river basins in the southwest corner of Colorado were sitting at 59% of the long term average. 

As of December 2 snowpack in the southwest basin was 115% compared to the long-term median. 

Statewide snowpack in Colorado is at 115% of the median. 

Credit USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service
Snowpack in the Colorado River Basin is higher than it normally is this time of year. The basin supplies water for 40 million people in the southwest.

Zooming out to the headwaters for the Colorado River and its tributaries, which encompasses river basins in western Colorado, southwestern Wyoming, and eastern Utah, snowpack is currently at 122% compared to the median. 

Snowpack in the Colorado River’s lower basin, which provides a much smaller portion of the river's flow, is at 472%. 

The numbers are good news for farmers, water managers, and municipal leaders throughout the state. But early season snowpack can provide a false sense of security. Snowpack typically reaches its seasonal peak in early April, with the make or break months coming mid-winter. 

The Colorado River watershed alone provides drinking and irrigation water to about 40 million people in the American southwest. 

This story is part of a project covering the Colorado River, produced by KUNC and supported through a Walton Family Foundation grant. KUNC is solely responsible for its editorial content.

As KUNC’s managing editor and reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I edit and produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.
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