Latest storm does little to solve precipitation problem

February 8, 2011
photo - Good Samaritan Dave Carpenter (left) helps Lauren Langdon (right) to try to get out of ditch filled with snow north of Black Forest on Tuesday, February 8, 2011.  Photo by JERILEE BENNETT, THE GAZETTE
Good Samaritan Dave Carpenter (left) helps Lauren Langdon (right) to try to get out of ditch filled with snow north of Black Forest on Tuesday, February 8, 2011. Photo by JERILEE BENNETT, THE GAZETTE 

Tuesday’s light steady snow seemed to be just what the Pikes Peak region needed after a mostly dry start to the year.

It wasn’t — once again it was the wrong kind of snow. Fluffy powder may be prized by skiers, but it doesn't do much for thirsty lawns when it melts.

That’s because snow that falls when the temperature is in the single digits or below zero contains little moisture, experts said.

Snowfall throughout the region ranged from a dusting at the Colorado Springs Airport where the National Weather Service’s official measurement is made to more than half a foot west and north of the city. It did little, though, to increase the sparse precipitation that has fallen since Dec. 1 last year.

Through this week, Colorado Springs had received 0.26 inches of precipitation, barely a third of the 0.77 inches it normally gets by early February, said Kyle Mozley, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pueblo.

The snow that has fallen hasn’t helped much because it’s too cold out, he said.

Usually, it takes 10 inches of snowfall to equal an inch of precipitation, but not when the temperature is below zero like it was last week and in the single digits like Tuesday.

“When you get these cold temperatures like we’ve seen, it takes 20 to 30 inches of snow to get one inch of precipitation,” Mozley said.

For lawns and trees that rely on that moisture even while dormant in winter, its not enough.

“It is absolutely necessary to water lawns, water trees as much as possible,” said John Rick, a certified landscape professional and part owner of Integrated Lawn and Tree Care in Colorado Springs.

“We’ve been sending out e-mails to our customers at least once a month, letting people know that they should water every time it gets above 50 degrees,” Rick said, stressing that mites will feed on roots if they are not “drowned out.”

Rick said many people stopped watering at the end of summer, anticipating a typical cool autumn. Temperatures hit 90 degrees even in early October and dry conditions continued right into the winter months.

The lack of snow, and especially precipitation, east of the mountains doesn’t mean there won’t be enough water in reservoirs or restrictions on residents as there was during the drought years that began in 2002.

The snowpack is above average after a series of blizzards on the Western Slope and the snowiest months — March and April — are still ahead.

“There’s no reason to be concerned,” Mozley said.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service reports about 120 to 130 percent of normal snowpack in the mountains, which has kept reservoirs almost full.

“We’ve had really, really good reservoir levels,” said Patrice Quintero, a Colorado Springs Utilities spokeswoman. “It’s looking like it normally does for this time of year.”

Mozley said forecasters expect the weather to be drier and warmer than usual for about the next month. This week’s storm will be short-lived, with temperatures in the 50s by Sunday.

The latest arctic blast brought another few days of near- or below-zero temperatures accompanied by fierce winds. Icy streets and blowing snow made travel difficult.

Colorado Springs could see 3 to 5 inches from this storm, said John Kalina, meteorologist for the National Weather Service. Nearly double that amount — 4 to 8 inches — was forecast for Monument and Woodland Park.

At 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, the weather service was reporting 4 degrees in Colorado Springs with a wind chill of 16 below zero. High temperatures in the Colorado Springs area should linger in the single digits through Wednesday, with wind chills as low as 30 degrees below zero.

The weather service was forecasting up to 14 inches of new snow by noon Tuesday for Steamboat Springs and 10 to 20 inches by Tuesday night for Crested Butte, Aspen, Vail and Marble.

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