As we walked down the trail, we came to The View. The place on the trail to North Boulder Creek, where the woods open up and the Indian Peaks appear in all their glory. The setting sun created a purple-pink glow glinting off the snow. The snow filling the cirques seemed shiny, deep and hard — a result of a snow and ice building up this past winter. And it may not be over yet.
For most Coloradans, higher than normal snow pack in May is a reason to rejoice. More snow means more water for irrigation, for agriculture. Reservoirs that had been perilously low last summer are filling up fast. Even the recreation industry is looking forward to a summer of profits, particularly for rafting.
But lots of snow in mid-May can present dangers as well. May weather in Colorado is fickle. It can go from a cool spring-like day to summer-time heat in no time at all. A sudden uptick in temperature can present dangerous situations downstream from all those snow-capped mountains.
The ideal is for slowly warming temperatures through May and June, which would mean the snow in the high country would gradually melt off. But a wave of hot weather can turn gentle creeks into roiling rivers that would flood the banks. The reservoirs would reach capacity quickly and have to start spilling the water downstream.
Suddenly, all that snow wouldn’t seem like such a boon.
Right now, the state is at 130% of normal snow pack for this time of the year. The Weather Service is calling for colder than normal temperatures for the rest of the month and above normal precipitation. Even in Nederland at 8,200 feet, we have seen snow in late May. That possibility increases greatly at 10,000 feet where Brainard Lake is. We may still be adding snow to what’s on the ground right now.
Nature and ecology is all about balance. Too little of something, like water, can directly impact ecology, wildlife, and yes, people’s lives. But too much of something can have an equally disastrous consequences. The avalanches that shut down main highways in southwestern Colorado this winter were perfect examples of that. They had so much snow that the steep slopes of the San Juan Mountains could no longer hold onto the snow and it created slides so large it buried roads for weeks.
Spring can be a time of coming back to life, of rejuvenation. Snow melt can contribute greatly to spring’s beauty — waterfalls, wildflowers, aspen trees leafing. But too much of it can destroy the very life that is just beginning.
Let’s hope that the next few weeks, Mother Nature brings us the right balance of weather that helps us make the most of this winter’s snow pack.