Drought news: South Platte River Basin snowpack drops (42% of avg) below minimum of record/2002 levels #CODrought

southplattebasinhighlow11292012.jpg

Click on the thumbnail for the current Basin/High Low ogive from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The snowpack is eerily similar to the winter of 2002-2003 on the Front Range. A monster snowstorm around St. Patrick’s Day in March of 2003 saved the day (and water year).

From the National Weather Service — Pueblo:

With just over a month left in the year, 2012 looks to go down as one the warmest and driest years on record across south central and southeast Colorado. Unless there is a major change in the weather pattern over the next month, 2012 will likely be the warmest year on record in Colorado Springs, and possibly the warmest year on record in Pueblo and Alamosa. In addition, 2012 will likely be the second driest year on record in Pueblo; the third or fourth driest year on record in Colorado Springs; and the twelfth driest year on record in Alamosa.

From the Grand Junction Free Press (Hannah Holm):

The situation varies around the state, but doesn’t look good anywhere. Snowpacks in the Colorado, Gunnison, Yampa/White, Upper Rio Grande and San Miguel/Dolores/Animas/San Juan River Basins are all registering between 40-47% of average, while the Arkansas is at a mere 30%. The South and North Platte River Basins are in the best shape, at 50% and 52% of average.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll have another drought year, since Colorado tends to get a large share of its snowfall in a few big storms later in the season. It bears watching, though, since statewide reservoir levels are already low: 66% of average for this time of year, and at 37% of their total capacity. Graphs shown by State Climatologist Nolan Doesken at Colorado Mesa University on Nov. 26 showed levels at Lake Dillon, Blue Mesa Lake and Lake Powell dropping between April and June of this year, a time when they normally refill.

Doesken pointed out that severe and widespread droughts are regular occurrences in Colorado, and the last one we have long-term data for (2002) was pretty short compared to droughts in the 1930s and 1950s. It’s worth noting that there were a lot fewer people in Colorado during those droughts.

Currently, the US Drought Monitor is reporting that over 90% of the state is in at least a “severe” drought, with a wide swath in the northwest corner (including Grand Junction) in “extreme” drought, and a large section of the southeastern part of the state in “exceptional” drought, the worst category. The US Drought Monitor also forecasts that drought conditions will persist or intensify in Colorado and all surrounding states over the next three months…

It’s entirely possible that we’ll get a big storm or two that will make skiers happy (even below 10,000 feet), and water users across the state will breathe sighs of relief. But the historical record (never mind climate change) tells us we won’t dodge the bullet forever. At some point we’ll face a severe multi-year drought again, so it’s not too soon to start thinking about how to adapt.

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