539% of normal. That is just plain crazy.
But this week, the snow pack totals for the entire state of Colorado were 539% of normal. If that sounds like a lot, just take a trip to the San Juan Mountains near Durango. It’s over 700% of normal there.
Yes, we got a lot of snow this past winter, well above normal. But at its peak during winter, snowpack was around 125% of normal.
So why is it off the charts now?
In a word — May. May is normally a month that temperatures warm and a significant amount of snow melts off into nearby streams, lakes and reservoirs.
But not this year.
This year May just brought cold and more snow to the high country. Instead of reducing snow pack, we were adding to its depth.
The great irony is that May is Wildfire Awareness Month. As things get hot and warm and windy, we are supposed to be thinking about wildfires and how to prevent them. Last month, people were more worried about snow breaking branches of trees, or how to clear the heavy wet stuff out of their driveway.
Temperatures in May averaged a whopping six degrees below normal here in Nederland.
So here we are with snow blanketing the trails of the Indian Peaks Wilderness. It’s going to be a challenging hiking season the next month.
As someone who volunteers with the Forest Service doing trail patrol, I have experience in this first hand. A few years ago, when we had a lot of snow, I literally spent a day rounding up lost hikers on the Mitchell Lake Trail in Brainard Recreation Area.
With several feet of snow on the ground, people became utterly lost in the woods, unable to find their way. Group after group made social trails that criss crossed back and forth, none of them even remotely following the route to Mitchell Lake.
When they spied me in my Forest Service Uniform, I became their Pied Piper. I had to use all my route-finding skills as well as a map and compass to lead the parade of people to the lake. One lady expressed her hearfelt thanks to me saying, “This is probably the most heroic thing you will do all summer!”
The problem is people from Texas, Missouri and Nebraska don’t plan their vacations around Colorado having cold and snowy Mays. They plan them around hot and humid weather arriving where they live and school vacations. Summer has arrived and people from the midwest flee to Colorado.
So no doubt, there will be folks wandering around Brainard Lake in the weeks to come, desperately searching for a trail buried in feet of snow. Even with a sudden increase in hot weather, we are not out of danger.
A rapid spike in temperatures will mean a very real possibility of severe flooding as water come rushing down creeks, and forces reservoirs to spill.
It’s going to be an interesting few weeks ahead of us in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.