December a wet, record-setting month

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— When it comes to measuring snowfall, the numbers can be deceiving, said Graham Roberts, environmental health and safety specialist at Trapper Mine.

The 32 inches of fresh snowfall tallied in December and the 16 inches of snow left on the grounds at Trapper Mine can be affected by other factors, such as drifts caused by wind or snow melting before it's measured, making it hard to get a truly accurate measure.

But there is a more telling number, Roberts said: precipitation of melted water.

And that number already has something to say: At 4.01 inches of measured precipitation, it is the wettest December in the 29 years Trapper Mine has kept such records.

The previous record for December was in 1983, at 3.35 inches of water precipitation.

The 30-year average for water precipitation in December is about 1 inch, Roberts said.

The wet, record-setting December comes on the heels of a dry, record-setting November. The 0.26 inches of precipitation marked the driest November in the mine's records, which is a cooperative observation site for the National Weather Service.

"There was a dramatic change (from November to December), and that is part of what we see out here in the West," said Mike Chamberlain, forecaster with the National Weather Service. "The West is characterized as semi-arid for the most part, and as you go over a period of records : you will see big changes from month to month, year to year.

"So, it's not really out of the ordinary. It's just what happened this year."

As wet as it has been in Northwest Colorado, other areas have seen heavier snowfall, said Brian Avery, a hydrologist with the weather service.

"Northwestern Colorado has been a little bit drier than the rest of western Colorado," he said. "In fact, the only major river basin where the snowpack is below normal is the Yampa and the White basins."

As for the remainder of this year's winter weather, Chamberlain said there is a 40 percent chance that temperatures will be higher than usual, while precipitation numbers look to be near typical.

For January, the mean-average temperature is 18.1 degrees; in February, 22.4 degrees; and in March, 32.8 degrees.The average snowfall in January is 14.9 inches; in February, 14 inches; and in March, 11.4 inches.

The immediate future could mean adding precipitation to the already record month of December as a storm makes it way toward Northwest Colorado this weekend.

"I wouldn't call it a big storm," Chamberlain said. "It looks like you're going to be in an area where there will be scattered showers on and off. I don't think accumulations are going to be that big."

He estimated that there wouldn't be more than an inch of snowfall in a 12-hour period through the scattered storms, with a higher chance for a deeper snowfall Sunday.

"There are a couple of factors in the Northwest plateau where you guys are at," he said. "There is some cold air trapped there right now, and that is going to act like a physical barrier, like a mountain barrier, and help lift the air, so that is going to be kind of a wild card : and maybe produce a little heavier snow."

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