DENVER – A powerful weekend storm dropped welcome snow into the Colorado mountains ahead of the critical spring runoff that determines how much water flows into rivers, reservoirs and farm fields, state and federal officials said Monday.
“From a snow-water standpoint, this storm turned out to be pretty significant,” said Karl Wetlaufer, a hydrologist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
April snow levels are closely watched indicators of how much water will drain into the four major river systems that begin in Colorado: the east-flowing Platte, Arkansas and Rio Grande and the west-flowing Colorado.
Federal data released Monday showed that snow in the mountains that feed the Arkansas, the North Platte and the South Platte ranged from 94 to 109 percent of average. Southern Colorado’s Rio Grande Basin was only 78 percent.
West of the Continental Divide, the Upper Colorado River Basin was at 103 percent of average while the Yampa and White river basins were at 98 percent.
The Gunnison and Animas-San Juan river basins in southwestern Colorado were still below average, at 75 to 85 percent.
All of state’s west-flowing rivers eventually empty into the Colorado River.
Statewide, the snowpack was at 95 percent of normal, Wetlaufer told state and federal officials who gather monthly to monitor the outlook for water supplies.
The weekend storm brought up to 4 feet of snow to the central Colorado mountains while bringing lesser but still significant amounts to other areas.
The agricultural eastern plains near the Kansas border received the equivalent of up to 4 inches of rain, State Climatologist Nolan Doesken said. He called it “nice and replenishing.”
Klaus Wolter, a research scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, said Colorado could still see more storms this month because of the lingering El Nino weather pattern.
The eastern part of Colorado is more likely to get more precipitation than the west, he said.
“El Nino is not done yet,” Wolter said.
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