April Designated as Leadville History Month
Spring Snow, Back Country Conditions Change Daily
While the eastern half of Colorado keeps its eyes to the skies for smoke from wildfires, it’s avalanches, snowpack and water levels that are on the minds of most mountain residents. While the roads may be dry and the lawns in Leadville starting to show, other shady areas still see up to 18 inches of snow remaining. This time of year conditions change fast, so be aware. If you’re headed into the back country or just curious about where things stand when it comes to snow conditions, here’s the latest from the experts.
On Saturday, Apr. 1, a skier-triggered avalanche was reported near Mayflower Gulch. The 1,000 foot slide took place on a “steep 50-degree, east-facing slope” in the popular backcountry area which is accessed by many though the parking lot off of Highway 91 between Leadville and Copper Mountain.
The slide was reported by Eric Malmgren of Summit County who noted that “One foot layer of new snow pulled. Stuck from waist down. Able to dig myself out.” It sounds like he was prepared for backcountry adventure.
According to the Colorado Avalanche Information Center (CAIC), the most problematic portions of the zone include areas around Breckenridge and towards Fremont Pass that picked up more around 6 inches of recent storm snow. The winds during and after the storm have made for unusual loading patterns on a variety of aspects. Any avalanche that you trigger will be small; however, small avalanches in extreme terrain can still be dangerous. You are most likely to find the deepest pockets of snow below ridge lines, in cross-loaded gullies, and behind terrain features. Avoid steep slopes where you find 8 inches or more of wind-drifted snow. Cracking in the storm snow are good indications a slab exists.
In the Sawatch Region, which includes Mts Elbert and Massive to the west of Leadville, Friday night’s new snow is rapidly settling, leaving two sets of concerns: Wind Slab avalanche on wind-loaded slopes, and loose wet avalanches on slopes where the snow surface becomes damp. According to CAIC, during the snowfall event, winds were coming from the east, drifting snow onto west-facing slopes. Winds shifted to the west overnight, which leaves us with the potential for small Wind Slab avalanches on all aspects above treeline. Be skeptical of any slope with more than 8 inches of new/drifted snow. The deeper the new snow, the larger these slides will be. Look for rollerballs and pinwheels as warning signs that the conditions for these avalanches are developing.
Snow Pack Statewide Looks Strong Early Spring
When it comes to snow pack, measures were calculated all throughout the month of February by agencies managed under the United States Department of Agriculture, which monitors and records such data. Here is their official report as of March 1, 2017 which is the most current data on record.
Colorado’s snowpack continued to accumulate during February and the statewide snowpack remains well above normal at 139 percent of the median on March 1. Despite areas that experienced below normal monthly snow accumulations during February and localized periods of unseasonably warm temperatures, the exceptional snowpack that fell during January allowed the mountains to remain at least 120 percent above normal in all areas.
Ten SNOTEL sites across the state have record snow water equivalent for March 1st and another five have their second highest snowpack. The Gunnison River basin continues to have the deepest snowpack with respect to normal and is currently at 155 percent of the median. The combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan basins, the Arkansas River basin, and the South Platte River basin are all above 140 percent of the median, while the Upper Rio Grande and Colorado River basins are both near 135 percent of the median. The combined Yampa, White, and North Platte River basins currently hold the lowest snowpack with respect to normal, but are still at a healthy 126 percent of the median.
There is about a month remaining until most of the major river basins typically reach their maximum snow accumulations for the winter. Yet, all areas, except for the South Platte and combined Yampa, White, and North Platte River basins have already exceeded their normal peaks, indicating there will be a plentiful amount of snow available for runoff this spring.
Zeroing in a bit closer to home, snowpack in the Arkansas River basin is above normal at 143% of the median. Precipitation for February was 88% of average which brings water year-to-date precipitation to 111% of average. Reservoir storage at the end of February was 103% of average compared to 124% last year. Current streamflow forecasts range from 125% of average for the Arkansas River at Salida to 98% of average for Grape Creek near Westcliffe.
For readers interested in reviewing the entire report: CLICK HERE.
Get out and enjoy the last bit of winter fun, there’s still plenty of snow to be found when you live at 10,200 feet – just do it safely!