January 2020 Snowpack Update: Southern San Juan Mountains
Updated: Apr 26
How does the 2020 snowpack stack up to last year and to the historic norm?
Snow-wise, 2019 is a tough act to follow, but I was surprised to learn that 2020 snow water equivalent is almost twice as much as last year at this time! Although the 2019 water year started with an early October snowstorm (allowing Wolf Creek Ski Area to open on October 13th), November and December were well below normal. However, a huge storm on New Year’s Day broke the dry pattern and the rest of 2019 turned out to be an epic year for snow lovers.
The 2020 water year (which began on October 1st) started out warm and dry, but storms from late November and through December raised the snow water equivalent to match the historic median. Currently, the Upper San Juan Snotel has 15.5 inches of water frozen in the 53-inch snowpack. Unfortunately, we haven’t had any new snow since 12/29/19.
Historically, the Upper San Juan Snotel site gains snow most rapidly from mid-December through the 1st week of January, but then something mysteriously turns off the faucet for a little over a week. Even though every year is different and storm timing should be random, this dry spell is consistent enough that it shows up on in the 30-year median (notice the flat spot on the green line in mid-January). I’ve heard some locals refer to this dry period as the January thaw (although this year we haven't thawed much). It’s as if the atmosphere gradually revs up throughout late fall and peaks with a powerful train of storms from mid-December into early January, depletes itself, and then the cycle repeats until March. Hopefully, the current January lull will give way to a steady barrage of storms. Lucky for us, the weather forecast for the Southern San Juans looks promising.