Trouts Journal

Snowpack Update - 3/31/23

Tucker Ladd / Mar 31, 2023

With March now in the rearview mirror, I figured now would be an ideal time to provide a Snowpack Update along with a forecast for what we all can expect from our upcoming spring runoff season. If you’ve lived in Colorado long enough, you understand the highs and lows that each winter can bring regarding our annual winter snowpack. Regardless of your time in the Centennial State, we can all agree that this past winter was long, cold, and certainly snow-filled. From a historical perspective, this past winter was near record-breaking in regards to the amount of snow we received across Colorado, as well as the current water content waiting to run into our home river systems.

In order to help our readers better understand the state of our current snowpack, I wanted to provide a bit more insight into how hydrologists track, measure, and forecast our winter snowpack, as well as what this data means for our state's summer water supply. Traditional weather forecasts are typically generated in inhabited parts of our state, which is great for forecasting weather in the places we all live. The problem is that these weather stations don’t accurately track what is happening where the bulk of our winter snow falls (i.e. the mountain high country), so snow hydrologists use special backcountry weather stations known as SNOTEL sites (which stands for Snowpack Telemetry Stations) to better measure how much snow actually exists in these hard to reach areas. Currently, there are 114 SNOWTEL sites across the Colorado high country, all strategically located near the headwaters of our state's river systems to help accurately measure our current snowpack in terms of its snow water equivalent (SWE). The snow water equivalent is a measurement taken by calculating the amount of water being held in the snowpack by measuring the density and depth of the snowpack. From these measurements, hydrologists can determine how much water we can expect the snow to transform into once we reach our spring runoff season.

As you can see from the latest data, our statewide snowpack is currently sitting at 138% of the previous 30-year average..

The mountain regions west of the Continental Divide faired far better this past winter, but all things considered, the South Platte and Arkansas river basins are sitting comfortably at near or above 100% of average. For the past 3 years, we have been sitting in a La Niña weather pattern, which typically means lesser snow for the Rocky Mountain West. Thankfully this atmospheric trend has been waning, and as of March 2023, the La Niña cycle has officially transitioned to a more favorable El Niño pattern, which typically means wetter weather for our part of the country.

This has certainly been present with the excessive snow we received this past winter, and will hopefully translate into better winters to come. To better understand the impacts that these drier weather patterns have on our winter snowpack, see the below satellite image showing the snow depth across the central Rocky Mountains as of 3/27/23 compared to the same time last year.

As you can see, the 2021/2022 winter was far drier than what we experienced this past winter, with noticeable voids of meaningful snowpack across the entire mountain west region. But just how positive this season's snowfall has been is even more telling when we reference the most recent SNOWTEL data. As you can see from the graphic below, the current SWE in Colorado is well above the 30-year median and is at near-record levels.

Currently, our SWE is on par with the winter of 1997, only to be bested by the winter of 1993, meaning that it has been 30 years since we have seen this much water content in our winter snowpack. To say this winter has been historic isn’t a far cry, and it’s certainly a relief for Colorado considering the drought conditions we have experienced the past couple of years. Now the question becomes what does all of this snow mean for the upcoming spring and summer months?

On average our snowpack peaks around April 8th, so we still have a week left to gain additional ground in terms of the SWE in our high country snowpack. Once things peak, we will likely see our annual runoff come in a couple of stages depending on the overall weather patterns we see move across Colorado. In typical years the first round of runoff comes with the melting of our lower elevation and valley snow, which will provide an initial bump in our state's river flows. After this peaks, the remaining snow will come down at the mercy of temperatures at higher elevations, which can create an abrupt or gradual melt of the remaining high country snow. Either scenario inherently has its drawbacks. An abrupt melt will create the potential for flooding in certain river basins, as well as short-term hazards to recreational river users. A slower melt, similar to what we experienced in 2016, will create a longer window for high river flows and less-than-ideal fishing conditions for a longer period of time. The good news is that either option will aid in the flushing of our rivers to remove unwanted sediment, which in turn will create healthier ecosystems for both fish and insects. Additionally, the likelihood that we will experience the low water and high water temperatures we have seen in the past couple of summers is unlikely, meaning no river closures and concern for the health of our fisheries through the summer months.

At this point, it is too early to tell how our runoff season is going to play out, but it is safe to say that rivers across the west will benefit greatly from the bounty of snow that is currently sitting in the Rocky Mountains. As our snowpack peaks, and we start to get a better idea of how things are going to play out, I’ll be sure to update our readers will any and all relevant information. In the interim, we are seeing ideal conditions for some early spring fishing, so now is a great time to think about getting out on the water. As always our professional and expert staff stands ready to help whether that be in assisting you with the necessary flies and supplies or having one of our professional guides show you a memorable day on the water. So be sure to stop by either of our store locations or hit us up online for the most up-to-date fishing information available.

Kind regards,

Tucker Ladd

Owner, Trouts Fly Fishing

Shopping Cart


Free shipping over $50.00

Shipping & taxes calculated at checkout

Checkout View / Edit Cart


Sold Out