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Updated: Lingering Winter Brings Welcome Snow But Increased Avalanche Danger To Rocky Mountain National Park


Plenty of snow in the Bear Lake area, and this photo was taken on Monday, early in the current storm. NPS photo.

Winter just keeps on hanging around in parts of the country, and it's not finished yet. An early spring storm at Rocky Mountain National Park has brought some welcome moisture to the park—and the snow is still falling today.

Kyle Patterson, the park's Public Information Officer reported Tuesday afternoon that the park received an additional 14 inches at Bear Lake since Monday's measurement was taken. As of yesterday afternoon, the latest storm has brought 29 inches of new snow at Bear Lake (9,475 ' elevation) on the east side of the park.

On the west side of the park, the Colorado River Trailhead (8,990' elevation) received another 10 to 12 inches of snow yesterday, bringing the current storm total at that location to about 22 inches.

Those are pretty impressive totals by winter standards, much less in mid-April, and the late season storm brings both good news for winter recreation fans—and a caution from park officials.

According to Patterson, backcountry ski and snowshoe conditions are excellent, but avalanche danger has increased; yesterday afternoon the risk was rated as HIGH on northwest through north to southeast aspects near and above treeline, and elsewhere in the park, avalanche danger was rated as "Considerable." Anyone venturing into the mountains anywhere in this part of the state in the coming days needs to be informed about avalanche safety.

The late precipitation is good news for the coming summer as well, since there's concern throughout the region for the lower than normal snowpack.

The park staff takes daily snow measurements at Bear Lake during the winter season, and has been doing so since 1983. That information is important because of the critical role winter snow plays in summer moisture for not only the park, but for a vast area downstream from the Rockies.

As noted in a feature story on today's Traveler, a non-profit river advocacy organization compiles an annual list of the country's most-endangered rivers, and the Colorado River, which has its headwaters in the park, has the unwelcome distinction of being at the top of the list. Below average winter snowpack for many of the past dozen years is part of the problem.

So, how are things looking thus far in 2013?

The average snowfall totals taken in the park at Bear Lake from November through April since 1983 has been 226.83 inches, but even after current storm this year's snowpack stands just a little over 172 inches.

Those measurements are in line with similar reports throughout the Colorado Rockies. Snowpack data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service for the Upper Colorado River Basin show this year's snow water equivalent is about 73 percent of normal, but those figures don't also include this week's storm—and the numbers are better than those at this same time last year.

There's hope yet for at least a little more moisture this week. Today's forecast includes a winter storm warning, with possible accumulations of eight to sixteen additional inches of snow.

Some local residents may be growing weary of shoveling the white stuff, but with summer fast approaching, in the big scheme of things the word for April is... "Let it snow!"

If you're considering a trip to the park in the coming days, be sure to check on road and weather conditions—and be prepared for winter, not spring. You can get current information about Rocky Mountain National Park by calling 970-586-1206 between 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. (Mountain Time).

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