Snow rapidly disappearing in Colorado, sparking concerns about wildfire season

Photo Credit: USDA website.

The snow is disappearing fast in Colorado this year, with some parts of the state having snowpack as low as 3% of the snow water equivalent norm for June 1, 2020.

As the snowpack melts “faster than usual,” warmer and drier conditions have contributed to an increased risk of wildfires across parts of the state –  despite statewide snowpack levels being reported “ higher than normal” at the beginning of April. At that time, snowpack was at 102% of the norm statewide. It’s now at 56% statewide.

Snow rapidly disappearing in Colorado, sparking concerns about wildfire season

Data as of June 1, 2020. Photo Credit: USDA.

This increased lack of snowpack comes after a hopeful start to the year when it came to reducing drought risks.

The shrinking snowpack is concerning for wildfire season, especially in the southwestern corner of the state where several weeks of dry weather and early snowmelt have been observed. These conditions are similar to those in 2018, which resulted in several large wildfires including the West Fork Complex Fire and the 416 Fire.

Snowpack typically increases from March through May before the summer decrease, but due to lack of spring snow and rain from the movement of the jet stream, forecasters are predicting above-average fire potential for the San Juan region.

According to the  United States Department of Agriculture, the South Platte is at only 55% of the median for the start of June, with several areas in the southwest corner of the state dropping below 50% of the median including the Upper Rio Grande at 3%, San Miguel Dolores, Animas, and San Juan at 13%, and Gunnison at 15%.

Snow rapidly disappearing in Colorado, sparking concerns about wildfire season

Photo Credit: USDA website.

The quickly melting snowpack is prompting dangerous conditions across the state’s waterways. Recently, a missing kayaker was found alive after getting swept away by the fast and icy cold waters.

It’s also important to note that many high country trails ( fourteeners) are still covered in snow and ice. Please use caution while hiking and consider bringing extra traction such as micro-spikes, crampons, ice axes, and hiking poles.

Editor’s Note: Before you head outside to recreate, please check for COVID-19 closures and any fire restrictions in place. Keep a safe distance from others, practice the core principles of Leave No Trace, and recreate safely and responsibly. 

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