San Juan Snowpack, March 1 update

In January, I posted here about the dire snowpack situation in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. At the time, the snow water equivalent at two SNOTEL stations — – Red Mountain Pass and Molas Lake — was extremely low. Still, weather was moving in even as I wrote about the dry spell, and it looked like there might be a chance that the snowpack would get much closer to the historic average.

The snows did come, tripling the amount of moisture at these places, closing mountain passes and heightening the avalanche risk. But it’s still not enough.

Just take a look at the graphs. A reminder: These show snow water equivalent on the first day of the month. I graphed only the five years with the lowest snowpack on March 1, along with the average from the period of record. I’ve added Columbus Basin — which is in the La Plata Mountains west of Durango — to the mix in order to get a bead on how things look in the high country a little bit further to the south.RMPSnow2MolasPassSno

As you can see, the further south you go, the worse the situation looks. Red Mountain Pass got a good snow-pounding during both January and February, bringing the snowpack up to a whopping 66 percent of the 1981-present average. Molas is at about 60 percent of average (1987-present), while Columbus Basin is only at about 35 percent (1994-present). And this year’s numbers for Molas and Columbus Basin are still among the lowest of the low. All three station’s, meanwhile, are sitting at about the same level as they were on March 1, 2002, which would turn out to be one of the worst drought years in the San Juans in recorded history.

Still, winter’s not over. If the trends of the last two months hold, there remains hope for a decent snowpack come May, when the runoff usually begins. Hope for a 2018 boating season on the River of Lost Souls isn’t lost, yet.

 

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