Snowstorms continue to pummel San Juan County during epic winter of 2023
by Bill Boyle
San Juan Record Editor
As a long series of storms continue to pummel the area, the critical snowpack in San Juan County is more than 246 percent of normal.
As of March 21, there is nearly two and one-half feet of water in the snow at the Camp Jackson Sno-tel station in the Abajo Mountains.
More than 110 inches of snow has fallen in Monticello since November, containing more than 12.3 inches of water.
Through March 13, there has been 11.52 inches of precipitation in Blanding since October 1, according to totals compiled by Kendall Laws.
Measurable precipitation has fallen in Blanding on 43 days since the water year began on October 1, including 50.5 inches – or more than four feet – of snow.
Through February, precipitation for the water year in Bluff is 108 percent of normal.
In the 37 years since the Camp Jackson Sno-tel was installed in 1986, there have been just two years when the total snowpack exceeded the current level. The snowpack currently holds 28.7 inches of water in 77 inches of snow.
The highest recorded snowpack at Camp Jackson was on March 30, 2005, when the snow held 35.8 inches of water.
The next highest level was on March 3, 1993, when the snowpack totaled 31.5 inches of water.
Just four years ago, on March 23, 2019, the Camp Jackson snowpack peaked at 26.1 inches.
Aside from those two years since 1986, there has never been more water at Camp Jackson than the current 28.7 inches.
With several storms in the short-term forecast, the total will only increase, with the total of 31.5 inches in 1993 possibly within striking distance.
The snowpack generally builds throughout the winter and peaks in March or April. The median day for the peak snowpack at Camp Jackson is March 14, but the snowpack has peaked as early as February 5 (in 2016) or as late as April 17 (in 1998).
The Sno-tel system is operated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
There are hundreds of Sno-tel stations across the United States, including Camp Jackson and the La Sal Mountain station in San Juan County.
Each site takes a number of hourly measurements every day of the year, including temperature, precipitation, snow-water equivalent, and snow depth.
The Camp Jackson Sno-tel station is located at 8,858 feet altitude in the Abajo Mountains, approximately ten miles west of Monticello and 10 miles north of Blanding. It was installed on October 1, 1986.
The La Sal Mountain Sno-tel station is located at 9,578 feet altitude, approximately ten miles north of La Sal. It was installed on August 8, 1980.
The highest recorded snowpack at the La Sal Sno-tel station is 26.6 inches, measured on April 21, 1983. As of March 17, 2023, the total was 22.2 inches. On average, the snowpack peaks at the La Sal station on March 30.
The two largest local reservoirs in San Juan County – Recapture Reservoir and Loyds Lake – last breached the spillways in 2019, when Recapture breached for nearly two months and Loyds Lake for one month.
Blanding resident Ferd Johnson, who operated the Water Conservancy District for many years, suggests that Recapture Reservoir generally fills when the snowpack exceeds 20 inches at Camp Jackson.
“We have five reservoirs to fill,” said Johnson, “and I think that all five will fill this year.”
Johnson referenced the five Blanding-area reservoirs, including Dry Wash, Starvation, Third, Fourth, and Recapture reservoirs.
Monticello weather watcher Scott Boyle said that Loyds Lake has breached the spillway twice since it was constructed in the late 1980s. He anticipates that once again, the water in Loyds Lake will reach the spillway in 2023.
Water watchers are carefully assessing the snowpack as they predict how high the water level will reach this summer at Lake Powell.
At the current time, the massive reservoir is currently at an elevation of 3520 feet. It is nearly 180 feet below the full level and currently holds less than 22 percent of its total capacity.
The water level is so low that launch ramps are currently closed at all of the major marinas, including Halls Crossing and Hite.
The current snowpack for the entire drainage for Lake Powell is 137 percent of normal.
Current projections are that the maximum probable inflows in the spring and summer of 2023 could raise the water level at Lake Powell by up to 65 feet by mid-summer.