• Is the 2017-2018 Colorado Snowpack and Ski Season a Disaster or Not?

     I’ve heard some people cry out, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

    Or, the problem is the sky is not falling. We have had an extremely dry start to the 2017-2018 Colorado winter. Some people are happy with the dry conditions, others are not. Should we be pressing the panic button?

    If you want the answer now – don’t panic yet. If you want more detail, read on. 

    One of my nicknames, given to me by good cycling buddies Scott Ellis and Bill Frielingsdorf, is “Weather Girl.” I closely examine multiple weather websites before every race and often the group rides as well. I'm a powder hound in the winter, closely watching forecasts for great snow. I could probably have another nickname, “Water Girl.” I have long been interested in snowpack and water in the state.

    We had an extremely dry winter in the mid-70s. I don’t recall the year and I can’t find data for that year. There was very limited skiing that year.

    The year I recall that was driest in recent years was 2002. Those people involved in irrigation and allocating water for the state had a big challenge that year. Below (click on the image to enlarge) is a snowpack graph for the South Platte River Basin for water years 1999-2002.


    The black line represents the water year 2002 (WY2002). This water year graph for snowpack begins in October of 2001 and goes to June of 2002. Notice for all water years on this graph, the snow water equivalent in mid-December was right around the 2.5 to 3-inch mark for three of the years. It was January where thing stayed dry in 2002 while we got more snow for the other years. Peak snowpack for 2002 was less than 8 inches, while the average is more like 15 inches.

    The next dry year was 2012. The graph below shows water years 2009 to 2012 and you can see that all the years had mid-December snowpack higher than 2002. WY2012 began okay but ended weak - about 10 inches.

    WY2011 began strong and ended strong. The snowpack that year was well above the 15-inch average. WY2011 was also a stellar ski season. The South Platte River Basin is different than the basins that host ski areas and those basins track higher averages that the South Platte – but – the basic graph appearance is similar for all Colorado basins.


    What doe this year look like? Below is the graph for water years 2015 to 2018. You can see that we’ve had a slow start to the year, similar to 2002. In mid-December, we’re around that 3-inch snowpack number. It will be January or February before we can determine if WY2018 will be a “bad” ski season and perhaps cause water restrictions for some areas of the state.  


    I’ve heard that some media outlets looking for traffic have been crying wolf. “This is the beginning of the end for skiing in Colorado!!”

    I say bullpucky. We may have a dry year and we may not. Even if we do, it will likely be only one year.

    I will admit I tend to be optimistic. It is possible that we can have an extended drought. After all, there were the Great Dust Bowl years (1930-1936) that did affect a good part of eastern Colorado.


    Fingers crossed, salt over the shoulder and four-leaf clover that the snow will come.



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