Snow Scientists Monitoring Snowpack At Berthoud Pass

Berthoud Pass is among 115 SNOTEL sites in Colorado, and it's one of the highest where hydrologists are taking measurements.

Video Transcript

- Over the past three months, the state has enjoyed more snow than its had in years. That's certainly temporarily helped with the drought conditions. But might still not be enough for our watersheds. The situation has researchers monitoring several spots, including Berthoud Pass.

- CBS 4 mountain reporter Jamie Leary takes us there tonight with a look at what they found.

JAMIE LEARY: Berthoud Pass is among 115 SNOTEL sites in the state and it's one of the highest. Hydrologists here are taking measurements to verify some of the data that this sends back wirelessly. Among the things that it measures, snowpack and water content, which is critical information when it comes to our water supply.

- So what I'll be doing is I'll just be recording our depth and our core length. 51.5. So we're essentially weighing what's in the tube. That weight gives you a pretty much exact measurement of what the liquid water content would be.

JAMIE LEARY: Well the samples here are over 50" deep?

- 50"-plus a depth. When that melts, that would be 16" of liquid.

JAMIE LEARY: It's snow that should melt and mostly run right into our waterways.

- We know the soils under the snowpack are so dry that it basically has to absorb so much of that, like a sponge, before it transmits it through to a river channel. 52.0.

JAMIE LEARY: Hydrologist Karl Wetlaufer and Mike Ardison use the data collected here, in combination with soil moisture models.

- We'll make our best estimate of how much they're going to have to absorb before it really gets transmitted.

JAMIE LEARY: There are several ways to collect data from the sites and all tell a similar story.

- In a normal year, the percent of normal snowpack would likely correlate with the stream for the runoff.

JAMIE LEARY: With the snow melt this year going straight into the soil--

- It is easily in that range of like 20% less stream flow than we'd commonly expect. And we did observe a similar effect last year, but we're expecting it to be more dramatic.

JAMIE LEARY: Drought conditions are expected across much of the nation this summer.

- So yeah, that's going to affect water resources, Whitewater recreation, fishing. All those things are definitely going to be impacted.

JAMIE LEARY: Drier and warmer. The data shows it's becoming a trend.

- It's going to take substantial spring and summer precipitation to really recover.

JAMIE LEARY: At Berthoud Pass, Jamie Leary, CBS 4 mountain newsroom.