Snowpack/drought news: San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins best in state at 79% of avg #codrought

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Click on the thumbnail graphics for the statewide map and basin high/low graphs for the Upper Colorado and San Miguel/Animas/Dolores/San Juan from the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The recent snowfall has really boosted snowpack in the southwest corner of Colorado.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (R. Scott Rappold):

As of last week, mountain snowpack was at 62 percent of average and Colorado Springs had received less than half its normal winter precipitation. Forget about your lawn. Experts say, in such times, people need to act to save their trees from what one local company called the “horticultural cliff.” “Winter watering right now is just critical,” city forester Paul Smith said. “Boy, when we get those 50-degree days, people should drag that hose out and let it run slow on their trees.”[...]

The Pikes Peak region has been in and out of drought for more than a decade, which has led the city to remove hundreds of dead or dying trees from medians and rights-of-way…

Bates, the horticulture agent, was asked how worried she is for the health of Colorado Springs’ trees.

On a scale of one to 10, she said, “We’re all at about 10 right now, maybe between 9 and 10. We’re all very concerned.”

Here’s the summary of last week’s Water Availability Task Force Meeting from the Colorado Water Conservation Board:

Activation of Phase 2 &3 of the State Drought Mitigation and Response Plan, and the activation of the Agricultural Impact Task Force remain in effect to respond to ongoing drought conditions throughout Colorado.

While calendar year 2012 ended with a month of beneficial precipitation and average temperatures, the year as a whole will go down as the second warmest on record. Temperatures 3-5 degrees above normal for the year resulted in an average annual temperature of 48.6 degrees; a close second to 1934, the height of the dust bowl, which averaged 48.9 degrees. January 2013 has brought below average temperatures to much of the state, but limited precipitation, especially on the eastern plains.

Typically this time of year the mountains receive an inch of moisture a week, yet to date January totals predominantly range between 0.1 to 1.0 inch along the western slope, with a few isolated pockets receiving 1-2 inches. While the short term forecast does show increased chances of precipitation for the remainder of January, it will not be enough to make up the monthly deficit.

  • As of the January 22, 2013 US Drought Monitor, 100% of Colorado is experiencing some level of drought classification. D2 (severe) and D3 (extreme) cover 87% of the state, while 13% of the state is experiencing exceptional drought (D4), isolated to the eastern plains.
  • Despite beneficial moisture in December that boosted snowpack to 70% of normal, a very dry January has resulted in snowpack declines in all of the state’s major river basins since January 1.
  • Municipalities and water providers are closely watching the situation and are preparing to respond should the drought conditions persist or worsen throughout the spring and summer. Many are reporting storage levels of roughly 40-60% of capacity.
  • Statewide reservoir storage is at 68% of average and 38% of capacity. The highest storage levels are in the Yampa/ White River Basin, at 100% of average while the lowest storage in the state is the Rio Grande River basin at 50% of average. All other basins range from 56% to 77% of average and 14% to 76% of total capacity. Last year this time the state was at 105% of average reservoir storage.*
  • Surface Water Supply Index values have improved in many areas of the state following December precipitation, yet all values remain negative. However, these values are expected to decline once January precipitation is factored in.
  • 42% of the variance of Colorado River runoff is related to fall moisture, implying that the 2013 runoff season is more likely to be below average. NRCS streamflow forecasts also predict below average spring and summer streamflow statewide.*
  • For the first time in nine years, ENSO-neutral conditions are likely to dominate through the winter months. Without El Nino or La Nina influencing weather patterns, it is difficult to determine when the current drought regime will be broken in Colorado. The latest long term experimental forecast, issued January 18th, shows below-normal chances of moisture from January to March throughout much of Colorado. This is based largely on other factors such as a cold north Pacific (PDO) and a warm North Atlantic (AMO).
  • * The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) uses a 30 year running average that is updated every ten years. This month marks the transition to the new “normal” period of 1981-2010 for all NRCS products (previous months used the 1971-2000 period). NRCS is also transitioning to the use of median rather than average to define normal for all SWE products. Average is still used for precipitation, reservoir and streamflow products. Please keep in mind that this transition will affect the data when presented as a percent of normal.

    From Reuters (Sam Nelson):

    Without rain or heavy snow before spring, millions of acres of wheat could be ruined while corn and soybean seedings could be threatened in the western Midwest, meteorologists and other crop experts have said. A climatology report issued last Thursday said there were no signs of improvement for Kansas or neighboring farm states.

    Roughly 57.64 percent of the contiguous United States was in at least “moderate” drought as of January 22, an improvement from 58.87 percent a week earlier, according to last Thursday’s Drought Monitor report by a consortium of federal and state climatology experts. But the worst level of drought, dubbed “exceptional,” expanded slightly to 6.36 percent from 6.31 percent of the country…

    The government on January 9 declared much of the central and southern U.S. Wheat Belt a natural disaster area. The U.S. Department of Agriculture made growers in large portions of four major wheat-growing states of Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas eligible for low-interest emergency loans.

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