Snowpack on Rabbit Ears Pass near Steamboat loses 12 points since March 4
March 18, 2015
Steamboat Springs — The Yampa River was clearly swollen and discolored Wednesday where it flows through downtown Steamboat Springs, and after Tuesday's temperatures reached into the 60s, that won't come as a surprise to valley residents.
It's impossible to avoid noticing how rapidly snow is melting from roof tops and south-facing embankments. Aspen trees are in the earliest stages of budding in some places, and green shoots from flower bulbs are emerging weeks ahead of schedule.
The Yampa's flows of 337 cubic feet per second Wednesday, where it passes beneath the Fifth Street Bridge in Steamboat, were more than double the median for the date, according to records kept by the U.S. Geological Survey.
In a winter of sub-par snowfall across Colorado, the west summit of Rabbit Ears Pass has been an isolated location with near-normal snowpack (water stored in the standing snow), according to monitoring by the National Resources Conservation Service.
However, there, at about 9,300 feet, the trend has reverted to unseasonably warm and dry conditions since March began with three days of welcome snowfall.
The NRCS recorded that the snowpack on Rabbit Ears March 4 stood at 94 percent of median for the date. But that number has dropped off steadily since then, losing 12 points – the equivalent of four-10ths of an inch of stored water – down to 82 percent of median for March 18. The median snowpack for March 18 is 22.2 inches and growing.
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Brian Domonkos, supervisor of the NRCS snow survey, told the state task force on water availability Tuesday that the recent warm weather had begun to melt the snow at lower elevations in parts of the Colorado River Basin, according to an article by the Associated Press.
The Yampa is a tributary of the Green River where it leaves the northwestern corner of Moffat County, ultimately flowing into the Colorado in Canyonlands National Park in Utah.
Just below Craig, where the Yampa has picked up flows from the Elk River, Trout Creek, Elkhead Creek and other tributaries, the river was flowing at 1,040 cfs at midday Wednesday, compared to the median of 638 cfs.
The Elk was also flowing above the median Wednesday — 312 cfs compared to the median for the date of 152 cfs.
The Elk River Snotel, where the RCS monitors snowpack on the western edge of the Mount Zirkel Wilderness in North Routt, is currently at 69 percent of median.