Jan 29, 2018

Why Low Snowfall In The Rockies Is Concerning For Western Water Managers

Denver, CO
Grace Hood


It's been snowy and cold this winter in parts of the country that don't usually see snow - the Gulf Coast, the Southeast. But here in the West, snowfall is at a record low. That is a problem for ski resorts and a longer-term worry for water managers. Grace Hood from Colorado Public Radio reports.


HOOD: Vail Resorts, which owns Keystone, reported an 11 percent drop in visits across its North America sites. Snowfall totals at the end of 2017 at some New Mexico, Colorado and Utah ski areas were the lowest in more than 30 years. And there are other worries for weather watchers.

RUSS SCHUMACHER: We've remained quite a bit warmer than average, even for January.

HOOD: Russ Schumacher is the Colorado state climatologist. The state recorded the third warmest year on record in 2017.

SCHUMACHER: Where we have seen some significant snowstorms, it still remained relatively warm.

HOOD: States like New Mexico and Utah have also seen warm starts to winter. Hot weather and low snowpack are a historically bad combination that worries water managers across the West. Jeff Lukas is with the Western Water Assessment, which tracks weather and water supply.

JEFF LUKAS: Your senses are triggered, but you don't push the alarm bell yet.

HOOD: Lukas is watching not just snowpack levels but the water in that snowpack. For him, snow is like a bank account for the arid West. Every year, water managers capture melting snow. They store it in reservoirs. But when snow starts running off early or evaporates in warm weather or there's not enough of it, it's a huge problem.

LUKAS: It's unlikely that we'll get back up to average over the next three to four months and end up with a peak snowpack that's near normal. So basically all of our potential futures are below average, and the question is, how far below?