Winter weather Mountains accumulate high snowpack
When considering the accumulated snowpack so far this winter, Bureau of Reclamation (BuRec) Wyoming Area Manager John Lawson says he knows it’s a good thing, but wonders if the Upper North Platte River Basin may be receiving too much of a good thing.
As of Jan. 3, snowpack in the high country around Saratoga and Walden, Colo. was reported at 150 percent of average.
“When you look at the lower basin – the area that drains below Pathfinder Reservoir, including the Laramie River below Guernsey Dam – it’s at 122 percent of average, so both are exceptionally high for this time of year,” says Lawson.
He points out that last year the upper basin measured 92 percent at this time, while the lower basin sat at 98 percent.
“I’ve always insisted that we shouldn’t get too excited about snowpack in January, because it can change dramatically one way or the other, particularly in April and May,” says Lawson. “But that was when I didn’t have a system sitting at 142 percent above average, and that today contains 2,160,000 acre-feet and only holds 2,800,000 acre-feet.”
Lawson says it’s then that one needs to start seriously considering snowpack levels, even beginning in January, and that he’s already begun to talk to his staff about January operations.
“I’m not comfortable going on with the statistical probable number for our operations for January, although we don’t have our forecasting set up to start until Feb. 1,” he says. “Usually January is way too early to attempt forecasting, but I’m suggesting to my staff that they take the snowpack we have today and assume we get average snowfall for January to come up with a number to put in our program for a February forecast. That will tell me what kind of water we think we might have with an average snowfall for the remainder of the month of January. That’s the number I want to use as far as a January operations study.”
Lawson suspects BuRec is heading toward releasing water out of the system below Guernsey Dam, probably in the first week of March.
“That’s not in our operations right now, but I’m already seriously looking at this,” he says. “Finding what might happen in February will give me a better indication.”
“It’s hard for me to say this is a bad thing,” says Lawson of the above-normal snowpack. “It can turn around, but if you’re watching the weather patterns hitting California and then the Upper North Platte Basin with snow as they travel across the United States, if that continues to persist over the next couple months, by the time I get to March I will definitely release water.”
Wyoming meteorologist Don Day says the next 30 days in Wyoming look really cold.
“We’ve been somewhat fortunate to avoid a lot of the severe cold that’s affected many other parts of the country, but starting next week, and at least for a couple weeks, we look to be pretty cold,” says Day.
Although temperatures will be below normal, Day says he doesn’t know that any part of Wyoming will get a lot of snow until late February and March, when snow chances traditionally rise.
“The second half of winter looks colder than the first half,” says Day. “When we trend colder than normal I don’t see the snow getting above normal.”
“So far this winter we’ve been fortunate to have a really good start to the snowpack in most areas across the state,” says Day. “We’ve got that great snowpack without suffering great snows on the plains, but it does look like we’ll have to contend with colder weather for the next few weeks.”
Christy Martinez is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.