Snow in the mountains, water in the spring: How crazy snowfall will help the plains

Posted at 4:33 PM, Jan 12, 2017

DENVER – The mountain locations are getting some pretty impressive snow totals this January and we’re just midway through the season, so what can Colorado expect in the spring?

If we go by the totals published Wednesday by the National Weather Service in Boulder, it looks like we won’t have to worry about not having enough water to fill up the reservoirs.

Back in September, Denver7 First Alert Weather Chief Meteorologist Mike Nelson projected Colorado would probably see a La Niña-type winter: A system that favors the northern mountains of Colorado with an abundance of snow.

Nelson predicted that the Denver area could see about 60 inches of snow while Foothill locations could see up to 100 inches of snow through early May.

Whether that ends up happening is still up in the air, but again, the snowfall totals in the mountains point to good prospects.

How much of an effect will snowfall have in the spring? 

The heavy snowfall usually means that the storm will bring nasty winter weather to eastern Colorado and most of the Midwest, Nelson said. 

But will we see that in the spring? It's too early to tell.

“There’s so much of the winter left, that it’s just really dependent on what happens now [to see what will happen in the spring with the water supply],” said National Weather Service Boulder hydrologist Treste Huse.

Colorado's 2017 "water year" started off slow -- really slow, according to National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) officials. 

"From the beginning of the water year through November 17th, 2016, statewide Colorado snowpack was off to the worst start in over 25 years at 6% of normal and year-to-date precipitation," said Brian Domonkos, a snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

But things changed quickly after Nov. 17. 

"From November 17th, 2016 through January 1st, 2017 snowpack in the mountains grew at the fastest rate dating back to 1986, with an [sic] statewide gain of 7.4 inches of snow water equivalent," said Domonkos. "That increase is greater than 1997, 2008, and 2011 for the same period in perspective years." 

Domonkos went on to say, "As of January 1st, 2017, Colorado statewide snowpack is a healthy 114% of normal, riding in on the back of a December which saw 171% of normal precipitation."  

As you can see from the graph below, drought conditions, which were affecting all of Colorado during the fall last year, seemed to have decreased exponentially for northwestern Colorado. 

While conditions still look somewhat dire for the Eastern Plains, the snow water equivalent for the Upper Colorado River Basin, the South Platte River Basin and the North Platte and Laramie Rivers is about 150% above normal.

NWS Boulder officials told Denver7 we'll have to wait and see what the winter will bring for the rest of the season in order to predict how it could potentially affect the Eastern Plains. 


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