Colorado winter has some new snowfall records, replenished reservoirs

February 2, 2014 Updated: February 3, 2014 at 9:17 am

Above average snowfall in January in Colorado Springs and heavy snow in the mountains is helping lessen the impacts of drought and has brought snowpack levels near normal.

Colorado Springs got 13.6 inches of snow in January, compared to the average snowfall for the month of 5.6 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

That's good news in a winter that brought below average snowfall and bitter cold in December. The 2.9 inches of snow that fell in December is about half the normal 5.7 inches, according to the weather service.

This winter's drastic temperature plunges and hikes, as well as record-setting daily snowfall totals, has justified the motto "if you don't like the weather in Colorado Springs, wait 20 minutes."

A cold snap in the beginning of December brought arctic temperatures to Colorado Springs, with the lowest reading of -8 degrees reported Dec. 6, according to the National Weather Service. Only two weeks later, the record for highest temperature on Dec. 18 was broken when the mercury reached a balmy 65 degrees. The previous record of 63 degrees had been set in 1958, according to the weather service. A little more than a week later, the record high temperature on Dec. 28 was tied at 62 degrees, previously set in 1999.

The weather in January kept things interesting for El Paso County, and while temperature records weren't tied or broken, the month began with an extreme low of -20 degrees on Jan. 5 and ended with bright sunny skies and 42 degrees on Jan. 30 - before the snow moved in.

According to the weather service, the Jan. 4 snowfall record was broken when three inches of snow were reported at the Colorado Springs airport. The previous record for that date was 1.9 inches in 1983. The 101-year-old daily snowfall record for Jan. 31 was obliterated when Colorado Springs got 3.5 inches on Friday.

"The snowfall has been very beneficial and our reservoirs are very close to the average level for this time of year," said Colorado Springs Utilities spokeswoman Patrice Lehermeier. "The outlook for 2014 is very positive right now, we just hope we can maintain those levels."

After two years of dreadfully dry conditions declared for most of Colorado, Lehermeier said the drought status was all but removed for the region. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 25 percent of the state is free of drought, while nearly 75 percent is abnormally dry - the least severe drought measure. With the exception of a portion of southeast Colorado that remains in severe to exceptional drought, Colorado managed to bounce back from a 100 percent drought status a year ago. Exceptional drought is the most severe level.

"Whenever we get lots of snow in the western mountains, especially over Hoosier Pass, Leadville and Buena Vista, that's good news," Lehermeier said. "Our concern now is that there are much drier conditions forecast for February and March, so we'll have to see how the reservoirs hold up."

With snow in the forecast for every day this week, the snow pack that feeds the state's water supply in reservoirs could grow.

Monday will have a 30 percent chance of precipitation with a high near 31 degrees, then temperatures might dip to single digits with a low of 9 and 60 percent chance of snow overnight, according to the weather service.

Snow could continue through Tuesday with a daytime high of 16 degrees and a nighttime low of 1, and new accumulations of up to two inches in the forecast.

The possibility of snow in Colorado Springs decreases later in the week, with a 10 percent chance on Wednesday, when a high near 13 is forecast, then a 20 percent chance of snowfall overnight and a low around -3.

Snow could stick around Thursday and Friday, with up to 20 percent chance of fresh snow over the region and temperatures below freezing for both days, according to the weather service.

On the western part of the state, a winter storm warning is in effect until 11 p.m. Tuesday, with snowfall of up to 15 inches forecast in the high country. A winter storm watch is in effect for eastern Colorado.

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