KNOW YOUR STREAMFLOW: Forecasting streamflow with snowpack data

As much as 90% of the yearly water supply in the Colorado Rockies is derived from the SWE (snow water equivalent) in the snowpack. Water stored in the snowpack in winter months is released as the runoff that eventually provides hydropower, irrigation, drinking water, and other uses. Changes in SWE can significantly affect agriculture, outdoor recreation, and the likelihood of wildfire activity. That is why it is monitored with increasing interest and accuracy today.

The SWE is very useful in forecasting runoff and streamflow in a watershed. While it can be measured directly in the field at snow telemetry (SNOTEL) sites , it is often calculated from snow depth and bulk density measurements. In addition, aircraft-based snow surveys using LiDAR (light detection and ranging) technology provide the snow-depth data that can be used to estimate SWE variability for entire watersheds.

The graph below shows snow depth and snow water equivalent (SWE) at the Red Mountain Pass SNOTEL for Water Year 2023 and through March 1st for Water Year 2024.

Please remember to enter the Uncompahgre River Classic peak flow prediction contest by May 1 (for free)! You could win great Patagonia gear and bragging rights as the most drip streamflow forecaster of the year.