Highest January Snowpack For Colorado In Three Years

Jan 14, 2017
SNOWTEL / Natural Resources Conservation Service

After a very dry fall, Colorado’s snowpack has bounced back. Statewide, the snowpack is at almost 160 percent of normal, with the state’s historically snowiest months still to come.

“To have our snowpack where it is right now for the state is a really good position to be in going forward for water supplies into the spring and summer,” said Brian Domonkos, Colorado snow survey supervisor and hydrologist.

The good news extends to cities and reservoirs downstream of Colorado, like Lake Mead in Nevada which has experienced record lows.

Akos Kokai / / Flickr

The 2013 storms in Colorado flooded streams across the region, washing gravel and soil into many rivers.

The storms also caused landslides and removed a thousand years’ worth of eroded rock and soil from some of the hillsides in Boulder Canyon, according to a study from researchers at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

“That’s what was so exciting in this storm,” says Suzanne Anderson, a geography professor at CU-Boulder and one author of the study. “There were some spots where the amount of material that was lost was substantial, and we could measure it.”

Colorado Is Now Officially Out Of Drought

Jul 16, 2015
Animation By Jim Hill, KUNC / Map Courtesy U.S. Drought Monitor

Just two small areas in Colorado register as abnormally dry on the U.S. Drought Monitor, meaning that the state is effectively drought-free.

The period from July 2013 to June 2015 is the second wettest two-year period in the U.S. Drought Monitor’s 120 years of observation for the state of Colorado -- and that helps. Yet more rain doesn’t always satiate a drought, since too much at any one time means flooding and water runoff. The better solution is snowpack -- the amount of snow that falls over the winter and refills the state’s reservoirs as it melts over the winter.

“What you want is kind of a gradual melting of the snowpack in the late spring and into the summer so that you get that gradual filling of the reservoirs,” explains David Simeral, a meteorologist and author of the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The Conditions Are Ripe For A 'Super' El Niño

Jul 13, 2015

The United States is currently experiencing the third strongest summertime El Niño since 1950, and it could strengthen.

“Basically since mid-May things have coalesced into a very strong El Niño and I would say we are on the verge of calling it a super El Niño. That may take a few months to be certain, but that’s where it’s drifting,” said University of Colorado-Boulder researcher Klaus Wolter.

“Certainly this is the biggest event since 1997/1998 which was the last super El Niño.”

Courtesy of Sergeant Marc Weber / Larimer County Sheriff's Office

After the disaster, there’s the debrief.

It's the process where first responders review "what worked and what didn’t work and what do we want to learn for the next time," said Larimer County Director of Emergency Management, Lori Hodges. But following the historic 2013 Colorado floods, she had a realization.

“It occurred to me that there aren’t really a lot of avenues for citizens to talk to other citizens at that level,” Hodges said.

Until now.

Karl Wetlaufer / Colorado Snow Survey

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.

What A Strengthening El Niño Means For Colorado

May 18, 2015

Climate forecasters say the possibility of a strong El Niño in 2015 could mean above average precipitation and an increased flood risk for Colorado.

The natural phenomenon arises from variations in ocean temperatures in the tropical Pacific, said University of Colorado, Boulder researcher Klaus Wolter.

"When we are in a situation like we have now with at least moderate El Niño conditions we do tend to get wetter summers." Although signs point to an El Niño, Wolter was still cautious.

National Weather Service on Twitter

Heavy rainfall over parts of the Front Range has prompted a flash flood watch for those areas until 9 p.m. Tuesday, May 5.

"The ground is already saturated and the additional rainfall expected tonight is compounding the risk of flooding," said Frank Cooper, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder.

Despite the forecast looking similar to September 2013 when historic flooding occurred, Cooper said they aren't worried about a repeat event with these storms. An oncoming system, expected to get to the state Saturday, May 8 is colder, bringing a chance of snow in the mountains and higher foothills that could lower flooding potential.

Viestenz-Smith Mountain Park / Facebook

Using a report by the Urban Land Institute as a guide, Loveland officials continue to restore areas hard hit by 2013's historic flooding. For every lesson learned as floodwaters subsided, additional questions have arisen about how to best respond to the next big event.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Four popular trails at Rocky Mountain National Park – the Lawn Lake and Ypsilon Lake, Alluvial Fan, Twin Sisters and Aspen Brook trails – were so damaged by Colorado's historic flooding, park rangers are preparing to repair or reroute them. The park is asking for the public's help in deciding which trail plans to go with.