Two weeks into July, Colorado’s heroic snowpack is still holding on — by its fingernails.
The state hasn’t had a snowpack like this since 2011, when 0.1 inches managed to hang around until July 18.
Snowpack is monitored closely each year because it is vital to Colorado’s water supply for residents, agriculture and recreation. Colorado receives 70% of its water supply from the melting snowpack.
“The snow is our most important reservoir of water not only for Colorado, but numerous other states as well, since we’re a headwaters state,” state climatologist Russ Schumacher said in an email. “So knowing how much water will be available is critical for everything from agriculture to drinking water to agreements with other states for the water, and hence those snowpack numbers are always watched with great interest.”
As of Thursday, Colorado still had 0.2 inches of snow water equivalent, a measurement the NRCS uses to determine snowpack. The snow water equivalent is how deep the water would be if the entire snowpack melted instantaneously, the organization explains. In 2011 and 1995, measurable snow was seen until July 19, the longest it’s remained since the NRCS started tracking it in 1984. The data is based on an average reading of 95 different sites across the state.
This year’s snowpack totals dropped throughout June, starting at 12.8 inches on the first of the month down to 1.1 inches on June 30. After a slight bump from a late June snowstorm that brought nearly 2 feet of snow to Steamboat Springs, the snowpack level has continued to drop.
The late-year snow helped mitigate the state’s drought levels to a 20-year-low this past spring. In May of last year, 78.6% of Colorado was still in drought. The 2018 snowpack lasted to June 10.
By the same time this year, statewide snowpack was 240% of normal, with the most moisture in the southwest corner of the state. The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins clocked in at 374% of their median snowpack. The late snow also helped keep several Colorado ski resorts open into the early summer. Four resorts managed to stay open until May, including Arapahoe Basin, which had visitors on the slopes on Independence Day.
While snowboarders and skiers reaped the benefits, Colorado’s wildflowers are expected to take a hit from the late snowpack levels this year. It could mean a shortened wildflower season, especially at higher elevations where snowpack remains in place.
Another concern is the impact on stream flow in rivers . Swollen rivers have claimed more than six lives statewide in the month of June alone. Over a dozen river locations, mostly in western Colorado, are still much above the normal stream flow percentage, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. As of Thursday, the stream flow of the Platte River above Cheesman Lake was 314% above average. The Colorado River was recorded at 218% above average, and the Arkansas River near Las Animas as at 286% above average.