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Snow helps, but drought outlook uncertain

Matt Stensland/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Brooke White of Atlanta plays in snow with her daughter, Evie, on Thursday at the base of Steamboat Ski Area. Holiday storms have improved the snowpack in Colorado’s mountains, but state climatologist Nolan Doesken said the snowfall so far isn’t good enough to pull the state out of its drought.

Associated Press

DENVER – The outlook for a major change in Colorado’s drought is uncertain even though holiday storms have improved the mountain snowpack, a climate researcher said Thursday.

“It’s not quite good enough to pull us out of the drought, but at least (it’s) bringing temporary relief and optimism,” State Climatologist Nolan Doesken said.

Snow levels were as low as 40 percent of average earlier this month in the state’s eight major river basins.

On Thursday, the levels ranged from a low of 63 percent of average in the Arkansas River Basin to 85 percent in the Yampa and White river basins.

“While those numbers aren’t great, they’re a big improvement over 2½ weeks ago,” Doesken said.

A Christmas Eve storm brought widespread snow to Colorado, including 20 inches on some parts of Grand Mesa in western Colorado.

On Thursday, Wolf Creek Ski Area reported 11 inches of new snow from another storm. Steamboat Springs reported 9 inches of new snow Thursday, and Winter Park reported 8 inches.

The timing was perfect for the holidays, especially for skiers, Doesken said.

“It’s just got the right look for this time of year,” he said.

Doesken said the forecast for the first part of 2013 doesn’t include much moisture, and the longer-range outlook is uncertain.

Conditions in the Pacific Ocean determine some long-distance weather patterns, which in turn affect snowfall in the West. So far, the Pacific has yielded few clues about those patterns, Doesken said.

“It doesn’t bode snowy, it doesn’t bode drought. It doesn’t bode average, either. It just bodes ‘We don’t know,’” he said.

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows Colorado conditions ranging from moderate – the middle of the five-step scale – to exceptional drought, the worst end of the scale.

Moderate conditions prevail along the northern Front Range from Denver to the Wyoming border. An uneven swath from northern to southwestern Colorado has severe drought conditions, while the rest of the state has either extreme or exceptional drought conditions.

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