‘The 2013 water year got off to a very slow start in the mountains of Colorado’ — Mage Hultstrand #COdrought #COwx

nrcssnowpackstoragetablejanuary1.jpg

Click on the thumbnail graphic for the table of January 1 snowpack and storage by basin and statewide.

It’s interesting that while statewide snowpack is only 70% of average the Gunnison, Colorado and Yampa/White/North Platte basins are ahead of last year by a bit, 108%, 107% and 113% respectively. That just shows what a bad year 2012 was. Right now everyone is hoping that the snowfall trend of December will continue and that we don’t see a 2002 April or a 2012 March.

Here’s the release from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (Mage Hultstrand):

The 2013 water year got off to a very slow start in the mountains of Colorado. As of January 1, Colorado’s statewide snowpack was 70 percent of average and 91 percent of last year’s readings, according to Phyllis Ann Philipps, State Conservationist, with the NRCS. “Conditions could have been much worse if we had not received the moisture we did in December” Philipps said. The much needed snowfall in December boosted the snowpack from just 36 percent of average recorded on December 1. Philipps also added that the January 1 snowpack is the fourth lowest within the last 32 years.

Mountain precipitation was 112 percent of average for December but due to exceptionally dry conditions in October and November statewide total water year to date precipitation remains below average. In October and November, Colorado received only 50 and 41 percent of average precipitation respectively. Statewide year to date precipitation was at 68 percent of average as of January 1. Basins in southern Colorado have the greatest deficits. The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins reported only 59 percent of average year to date precipitation on January 1. The Upper Rio Grande and Arkansas basins recorded 62 and 61 percent of average for year to date precipitation respectively.

So far this winter season has been dominated by high pressure weather systems and a jet stream that has not cooperated. January 1 snow surveys confirm that snow accumulation is below average for this time of year across the state. Total accumulation ranges from 82 percent of average in the Yampa and White River basins, to 61 percent of average in the Arkansas basin. The South Platte River basin reported 67 percent of average and the Colorado River basin reported 68 percent of average

Due to last spring’s well below average snowpack and subsequent low streamflow volumes throughout most of the state, reservoir storage is currently well below average throughout Colorado. Statewide reservoir storage at the end of December was just 68 percent of average and 38 percent of capacity.

Here’s the latest monthly briefing from the good folks at the Western Water Assessment:

Highlights

December was generally wetter than average west of the Continental Divide, but mostly drier than average to the east

Snowpack conditions improved in December but remain below-average across Colorado and in parts of Wyoming; snowpacks are near- or above-average in Utah and most of Wyoming

The NOAA CPC climate outlooks now show a slight dry “tilt” for winter and early spring precipitation for the southern half of our region

December Precipitation and Temperatures, and Current Drought

December was wetter overall in our region than November and October, with most mountain regions seeing above-average precipitation for the month, including western and central Colorado, western Wyoming, and far northern Utah. There were also large areas with drier-than-average conditions, especially eastern Wyoming and most of eastern Colorado. Despite the December gains in many areas, the HPRCC Water Year Precipitation map shows that after the first quarter of the 2013 water year, nearly all of the region is drier than average, with some areas like southeastern Colorado seeing less than 50% of average October–December precipitation. December was cooler than average over most of the region, with the wetter areas generally seeing the below-average temperatures, and the drier parts of Wyoming and Utah being warmer than average. The latest US Drought Monitor, representing conditions as of January 1, shows a modest reduction in the area of severe (D2) and extreme (D3) drought conditions since late November, but the vast majority of the region is still classified in severe (D2) or worse drought: Colorado, 95%; Wyoming, 86%, and Utah, 66%.

Current Snowpack and Streamflows

As reported in the December 21 briefing, snowpacks across Colorado saw large gains in December. Even so, the NRCS Current Basin Snowpack map shows that Colorado—and southeastern and north-central Wyoming—still lag well behind average conditions for early January. In the rest of Wyoming and in Utah, snowpacks kept pace with normal accumulations during December and are near-average or slightly above average. The January 1 basinwide snowpack for the Upper Colorado River above Lake Powell was 86% of average, up sharply from 60% of average on December 1.

In the maps of current streamflows in the three states, note that most gages are now ice-affected and not reporting, as is normal for this time of year. The gages that are reporting are mostly showing normal (green) streamflows, below-normal (yellow), or much-below normal (brown) flows for the date, with very few in the above-normal categories. The Colorado River near Cisco, UT gage, was in the 13th percentile, at 76% of the median flow for December 2.

Seasonal Climate and Drought Forecasts

As reported in the December 21 briefing, the latest monthly and seasonal Climate Outlooks released on December 20 by NOAA CPC are now showing a slight tilt towards drier-than-average conditions for the winter and early spring in the southern portion of our region. The IRI’s mid-December ENSO Prediction Plume shows a strong model consensus that ENSO-neutral conditions will continue through next spring, and only a slight chance of an El Niño or La Niña event emerging in that time frame. The CPC Climate Outlooks continue to show enhanced odds for above-normal temperatures for the winter and early spring season, consistent with the long-term trend towards warmer conditions. The latest CPC Seasonal Drought Outlook released January 3 once again projects that the drought conditions across our region will persist, through at least March 2013.

From The Denver Post:

As of Jan. 1, Colorado’s statewide snowpack was 70 percent of average — the fourth lowest snowpack in the last 32 years. But the numbers are a welcome increase after snowpack was recorded Dec. 1 at 36 percent of average, according to the news release from the conservation service.

Mountain precipitation was 112 percent of average for December but dry conditions in October and November statewide have kept precipitation totals below average With below-average precipitation, the state’s reservoir storage also remains low. Statewide reservoir storage is at about 68 percent of average with the Rio Grande basin being the lowest, at 50 percent of average.

The National Weather Service outlook for the month predicts close to normal precipitation for January, with the best chances for more snow in the middle of the month.

From the Delta County Independent:

Snowpack on Grand Mesa was gauged at 47 percent of average prior to the December storms, the Cedaredge trustees were told at their December meeting. Since the report, snow depth at Park Reservoir has increased from 37 inches on Dec. 12 to 45 inches on the day after Christmas, according to NRCS data.

In addition, water storage reservoirs on Grand Mesa in the Surface Creek drainage have retained an estimated 15 percent-of-capacity carryover into the coming water year as of early December, reported the town public works department.

The public works report, delivered to the Cedaredge Town Board on Dec. 13, compared that 15 percent figure with a 44 percent “basin-wide” average at this same time last year. Late December storms are improving the situation on the Grand Mesa. According to the NRCS data as of Dec. 28, the basin-wide average had improved to 67 percent of average.

The Surface Creek drainage is still better off than some others, according to the report. Specifically, Young’s Creek is estimated to have a 7 percent carryover, the report stated. Data comes in part from state water officials.

From The Greeley Tribune (Eric Brown):

Greeley’s weather statistics ended 2012 much the same way they spent the entire year — way too low in some regards and way too high in others. The year that just wrapped up stands as the hottest and driest year on record for the city. The 0.34 inches of precipitation Greeley received last month was nearly 40 percent less than average for December, according to figures provided by the Colorado Climate Center in Fort Collins. And Greeley’s precipitation total for all of 2012 stood at 8.33 inches — well short of the 14.69 inches the city receives on average annually. Falling short of the previous all­time low of 8.43 inches in 1968 means 2012 will go down in history as the driest on record.

The average temperature for December was 31.6 degrees — nearly a degree above normal — and for 2012, the average temperature in the city was 55.3 degrees, 2.6 degrees above normal, and standing as the hottest on record. But as hot and dry as it’s been locally, the Greeley area is still faring better than the rest of the state. According to the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, updated on Dec. 25, Greeley, western Weld County and some surrounding areas are experiencing “moderate” drought, while the rest of the state is enduring “severe,” “extreme” or “exceptional” drought.

Conditions are the worst in southeast Colorado. The dry conditions across Colorado have created headaches for farmers and ranchers and water providers all year. Of particular concern to many this year is how dry it is in the mountains, although some progress has been made in recent weeks.

Greeley, like many other cities in Colorado, is one that depends heavily on snowmelt from the mountains to meet its water needs. Weld County’s farmers and ranchers, too, depend on winter and spring snowpack to provide runoff that fills irrigations ditches during the growing season.

At the end of last spring, snowpack across the state was just 2 percent of the historic average for that time of the year, according to numbers provided by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. But on Wednesday, snowpack across the state was 71 percent of its historic average for Jan. 2. In the South Platte River basin, snowpack stood at 70 percent of average, and snowpack in the Colorado River basin — where the northern Front Range also gets much of its water supplies — was at 68 percent of average. Of the eight major river basins in Colorado, the Arkansas River basin had the lowest snowpack numbers, with its levels at 59 percent of average on Wednesday.

From the Fort Collins Coloradoan (Bobby Magill):

For many Northern Coloradans, 2012’s searing heat and dry weather took a turn for the personal when the High Park Fire roared through Larimer County’s foothills. “To me, the story was personal and local, and it was awful. It was terrible,” said Colorado State University atmospheric science professor Scott Denning. “Everybody knows it. Whether it was climate change or not, it sure sucked.”[...]

2012 was the most sweltering of years in Fort Collins, surpassing 2006 as the warmest year on record by nearly two degrees, according to Colorado Climate Center data. The year was only the 15th driest on record here, but coupled with the extraordinary heat, the year will become infamous for being on par with the most notorious drought years ever recorded here — 1934 and 1954, said Colorado State Climatologist Nolan Doesken. Scientists have long seen a warming trend in Colorado, but not until 2012 did the warming trend bring with it historic temperature extremes that challenged the heat records set in the 1930s and 1950s, he said.

Fort Collins had three days of high temperatures above 100 degrees last summer, and Denver, Colorado Springs and Lamar all tied or broke their all-time heat records. The heat in Denver reached 105 degrees two days in a row — tying the all-time high set in 2005. Lamar hit 112 degrees…

One of the most significant things about the 2012 drought was the lack of snow, said Don Day of DayWeather in Cheyenne. 2011 saw one of the most robust snowpacks in history here, with the water content of the snow in the South Platte Basin 142 percent of normal on Jan. 3, 2011. A year later, it was only 90 percent, dropping to about 60 percent by the beginning of April, 2012…

Global weather patterns seem to be shaping up so that the coming months are sure to be wetter than last winter. “My opinion from what I’ve seen is that what we experienced in 2012 will not be repeated in 2013,” he said.

From The Trinidad Times (Steve Block):

Despite some recent snowfalls, persistent drought is likely to continue in much of Las Animas County through at least the end of January. State Climatologist Nolan Doesken said Wednesday that it’s hard to be optimistic about the near-term forecast for significant precipitation in this area.

Doesken said that what little snowfall there has been in the Arkansas River Basin has not been enough to add to the area’s already severely depleted soil moisture. He added that the dry atmospheric conditions experienced in recent weeks tend to cause snow to evaporate into the atmosphere before it can soak into the soil. He said dry but cool conditions forecast over the next few weeks might help the area keep some of its thin snowpack, but could not predict any major weather events that would bring heavy snow…

Doesken said the Front Range area of Colorado typically benefits from late winter and spring storms, but said it’s too early to predict major weather events with any certainty. He said the mid-Pacific Ocean weather currents known as “El Niño,” and “La Niña,” are also not very well defined this year.

During winter weather seasons when El Niños and La Niñas are weak, storms across southern Colorado tend to be less intense and of shorter duration, according to the website crh.noaa.gov which offers an outlook on winter weather patterns. During winter months when weather patterns are weak, southeast Colorado tends to get normal to below average precipitation, and about normal to slightly higher temperatures, according to the website.

Doesken said the two-year drought suffered by much of southern Colorado also impacts how much moisture the region needs to return to normal levels. “The Arkansas River Valley is way behind its normal moisture levels. So far, we haven’t had enough snow to add to the soil moisture.”[...]

The central part of Las Animas County remained in a condition of Exceptional Drought, or D-4, at the end of 2012, the most severe drought category according to the website droughtmonitor.unl.edu. The eastern and western parts of the county were in the Exceptional Drought, or D-3, category at the end of 2012.

Perry Stokes Regional Airport east of Trinidad reported about 4.5 inches of precipitation in 2012, according to the website of the High Plains Regional Climate Center at hprcc.unl.edu. The 30-year average for precipitation at the airport between 1971 and 2001 was about 14 inches per year.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

December snowfall in Summit County was just slightly above average at both official observation sites, with Breckenridge weather watcher Rick Bly tallying 25. 3 inches for the month, just about 3 inches more than the average based on records going back more than 100 years. In Dillon, Denver Water observers reported 22.5 inches of snow in December. The average, based on records going back to 1909, is 17.5 inches. For the weather year to date in Breckenridge, Bly said he’s recorded 37.3 inches, which is 67 percent of the average 55.6 inches, and just barely ahead of last year’s 34.8 inches for the season. Weather watchers start their year on Oct. 1, in case you were wondering. While the snow total at Breckenridge may be shy of average, that snow melted down to about 4.31 inches of water, which, surprisingly, is just ahead of the seasonal average.

January isn’t a particularly snowy month, but good things can happen. The all-time record January snowfall was 80.2 inches way back in the record-setting winter of 1899. But the second-snowiest January on record wasn’t all that long ago — 1996 brought 71.8 inches of the white stuff.

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