DENVER - Colorado's once-ample snowpack is melting earlier and much faster than usual, raising concerns about floods, wildfires and water shortages, officials said Wednesday.
"Normally we don't even see runoff begin until early April, and to see it already start is pretty impressive, and not in a good way," said Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor for the federal Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The National Interagency Fire Center predicted the dry weather will increase the wildfire threat. "It certainly is of concern," said Glenn Bartter of the Rocky Mountain Area Coordination Center, which coordinates federal, state and local firefighting efforts.
The statewide snowpack, which measures water in snow, was 77 percent of the 30-year average on Wednesday. Three weeks ago it was 91 percent.
The South Platte River basin, which includes the Poudre River basin, was 99 percent of average Wednesday.
The early runoff means the water may be gone by the time farmers need it later in the year. It also could bring rivers to their peak before rafters are ready to book their trips.
"We are on track to be the earliest melt-out in the southwestern (Colorado) area since 1979," Gillespie said. "The flow in the San Juan River near Pagosa Springs is 10 times the average for this time of year."