Snowpack Update

4/7/23 Friday 4:15 am

Today will be another nice day, temperatures will continue to moderate for the next 5 days or so.

The snowpack looks great, even the biggest doomsayers can’t poke a hole in it. I wanted to approach the numbers from a slightly different angle this time, runoff. Keep in mind I am not a hydrologist or even a hydro-nerd. I can only approach this from a common sense perspective and from previous data available to me.

A lot of people ask me my opinion on snowpack, and they send me data that applies to the state as a whole. I have enough trouble trying to keep up on everything around here let alone the rest of the state. So I like to concentrate on the data that affect our local basins. That is why I continue to use the same non-flashy tables that are easy for everyone to understand, and are relatable geographically.

The first thing that should jump off the page is I highlighted some of the numbers and columns I wanted to talk about. Even though we are talking about “snowpack” remember we are talking about liquid equivalent inches.

The first highlighted column is Current (inches). These is were the levels as of 6 pm last night. The second column is Today’s Median (inches). That refers to where we usually stand on this date. At all sites, we are way above average. The last column I highlighted is Today’s Median percentage. That puts it all in perspective. Look at Cascade #2 at 629% of average for this date. Part of the reason for this huge anomaly is because this relatively low elevation (9012′) SNOTEL site usually peaks on March 6th. Not this year!

Here are the top 20 historic crests on the Animas River measured in Durango.

Historic Crests
(1) 11.00 ft on 10/05/1911
(2) 9.65 ft on 06/29/1927
(3) 8.83 ft on 09/06/1970
(4) 8.50 ft on 06/19/1949
(5) 8.12 ft on 06/06/1957
(6) 7.53 ft on 05/28/1958
(7) 7.45 ft on 06/11/1980
(8) 7.40 ft on 05/14/1941
(9) 7.40 ft on 05/25/2005
(10) 7.38 ft on 06/09/1985
(11) 7.27 ft on 05/28/1979
(12) 7.26 ft on 05/19/1948
(13) 7.17 ft on 06/11/1973
(14) 7.08 ft on 06/16/1995
(15) 7.06 ft on 06/16/1975
(16) 7.03 ft on 05/25/1984
(17) 7.00 ft on 06/02/1997
(18) 6.98 ft on 06/11/1952
(19) 6.92 ft on 10/07/2006
(20) 6.87 ft on 06/09/2019

I highlighted 3 dates here because it is important to point out that those crests came in the early fall, more than likely they we due to heavy rains from the remnants of a tropical storm or depression. So, while they are significant, they don’t really apply to this discussion.

The one that I think is the most relevant is #20 because it happened just 4 years in 2019. For those of you that lived here, it should be fresh in your mind.

So what do these numbers actually mean? Here are the descriptions of the impacts based on the river levels. Since 11 feet is the worst since records have been kept I will start there and work lower.

11 The area surrounding the Durango Fish Hatchery is flooding. Water is nearing the base of the Rio Grande Western Railroad Bridge adjacent to 15th Street.
10 Major flooding is occurring in the old Val-Air Glider field and hangars.
9.69 The Dalton Ranch Golf Club is beginning to flood. Some dikes topped north of Durango.
9 Significant overbank flow is occurring in Durango.
8.5 Flooding of the Durango and Silverton narrow gauge railroad between Tacoma and Needleton is occurring.
8 Minor flooding of agricultural lands and residential structures north of Durango is occurring. Water is nearing sections of the Rio Grande Western Railroad north of Durango.
7 Agricultural lands north of Durango are experiencing minor flooding. Portions of the Val-Air Gliderport field are flooded.
6 Lowland flooding is likely in the vicinity of Timble and Hermosa.
5.5 White water rafting on the Animas River above Durango becomes hazardous.


In 2019 the peak crest was 6.87 feet on June 9th. As I said I am not a hydro-nerd I am a weather nerd. So I can’t begin to forecast the future river levels and when they will hit peak runoff. That being said, 2019 and 2023 have been similar. I know it has been slightly cooler this spring than in 2019. With below-normal temperatures expected to continue over the next 6 weeks, I think you can make an assumption that the peak crest date may be later than in 2019. Also, I think when you look at the current snowpack, you can make the case that the crest may be at or slightly above the 2019 levels.

My next update will be on Saturday. Thanks for following and supporting the site!

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