April 12, 2017, DENVER, CO – USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Snow Survey and Water Forecasting team in Colorado recently hosted its annual Snow Survey and Water Forecasting media tour.  Each year the team takes members of the press up to one of the state’s 97 manual snow courses to report the most recent findings.  Participants also see firsthand, how snow is collected and measured for water availability predictions.

“The 2016-2017 snow season has been unpredictable at best.  April and May are the months were we see most of our precipitation for the year, about 21%,” says Brian Domonkos, NRCS Snow Survey Supervisor. “So we’re in in a pivotal position right now.  Poor precipitation in March isn’t a great start to our most pivotal point.”

Colorado is known for its unpredictable weather patterns.  The element of surprise is also a consideration when attempting to forecast water availability across the state.  “The bottom line is, across the state we need moisture if we are to remain above normal,” Domonkos goes on to say.  “Although we got a great deal of snow through January, we’ve not had much since.  Those hearty storm systems early on allowed us to coast thru February and March but we’re now at a point where we are reliant on future precipitation.”

NRCS’ Snow Survey and Water Forecasting Program provides western states and Alaska with information on future water supplies through the analysis of snowpack water equivalent and depth data at 866 automated SNOpack TELemetry (SNOTEL) stations.  This network relays information about the depth and water content of the snowpack, precipitation, and air temperatures and other elements to a central computer on an hourly basis.  Data for the Program is also collected by measuring 1,352 manually observed snow courses in the United States and Canada including the sites in Colorado.

 “Ideally we always want to be 120 – 100%  of normal snowpack because these conditions often yield the best runoff during spring and summer months provided future spring and summer precipitation is near normal,” says Domonkos.  “What we also know however, is that at any given moment the various basins across the state hold various amounts of snow.  Some basins reach their annual snow pack peak capacity, while others don’t. Even if a basin reaches its peak within a season, efficient runoff of that snowpack depends upon snowpack peak timing and amount as well as a host of other factors.  For Example, the combined Yampa-White-North Platte River Basins already hit their typical snowpack peak for this year.  But because it reached peak so early in the season, the runoff efficiency may be diminished.  At the end of the day, more moisture across the state would be a nice thing to see.”

For more information about NRCS and its Snow Survey and Water Forecasting program, please visit: the NRCS Snow Survey Webpage in Colorado.