Forecast news: ‘We’re still knee deep in drought’ — Makoto Moore

February 22, 2013

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Garrison Wells):

“We do have another sytem that’s coming down Sunday,” said Makoto Moore, meteorologist with the weather service in Pueblo. “It looks like it’s going to be somewhat unsettled.” Sunday’s storm will hit the Continental Divide late Saturday night and roll across the state Sunday, he said. “This is definitely a good thing,” Moore said. “I wish we’d get a lot more of it, but we’re still knee deep in drought.”


Snowpack news: The Gunnison Basin hits 75% of avg while the Upper Colorado is at 70% #codrought

February 22, 2013

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From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

A whopping 17.5 inches of snow fell at Monarch Mountain overnight Wednesday giving the resort a healthy 58-inch base much to the delight of skiers and snowboarders. The resort has received 175.5 inches of snow so far this season despite a late start that delayed opening by 24 days. Dry weather patterns meant little moisture for the all-naturalsnow resort where snowmaking equipment is not used, but Mother Nature seems to be very cooperative now.
“Nothing motivates the market like fresh snow,” said Greg Ralph, Monarch marketing manager.

Elsewhere in Chaffee County, weather spotters reported 4 inches of snow in Buena Vista and 2 inches of snow in Salida. In Fremont County, Texas Creek residents reported 4 inches of snow, while 2 inches were measured in Canon City and 1 inch in Penrose.

According to the KRLN radio, which maintains a weather station, Canon City has received 0.56 of an inch of moisture in February — nearly a quarter-inch above the monthly average. For the year, 0.73 of an inch of moisture has been recorded, just .03 under the annual average. In Custer County, snowfall ranged from 2 to 6 inches from the overnight Wednesday and early Thursday storm.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

A quick-moving storm brought much-needed moisture to parts of Colorado, but moved out of the area by noon Thursday. The heaviest snowfall in the state was in the southwest and central mountains, along with the Colorado Springs-Denver area.

Fountain received more than 10 inches of snow overnight Wednesday, the highest amount reported. Moisture content was about 1 inch. Other parts of El Paso County received 5 to 9 inches of snow.

In Pueblo, snow was lighter, but wet. About 1 to 3 inches fell overnight in most parts of the area, with 0.1 to 0.2 inches of precipitation. In the southern part of Pueblo County, up to 0.25 inches of precipitation was recorded.

Light snow fell into midafternoon on the Eastern Plains, as the storm moved eastward.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jack Flobeck):

“Normal” in snowpack history can be many years ago, and it’s not the discrete date that counts; it’s what that entails; as well as what’s happened since that normal date. The 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s brought millions more people to Colorado, owning millions more cars; the temperatures are higher each summer; and hundreds of coal-fired energy plants have been built from California to Colorado, and even with best intentions and the latest high-tech filters; they all contribute to a dirtier snow. Dirtier snow melts earlier. Next snowstorm, take two identical plastic paint buckets, and, pack one with just snow; but in the other put a dozen black marbles in on top of every three inches of snow. Put them out in the Colorado sunshine that usually follows a snow. Check your watch, and you will notice that the bucket with the marbles melts in much less time than the snow-only bucket. This is the way it works with our snowpack, too.

Our farmers use 80 percent of our water to irrigate crops, and they can only irrigate after preparing their fields, planting, and fertilizing. If the precious and prayed for snow melt continues to occur earlier in the year; the bulk of our water will run downstream to Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and California before the farmers have a chance to use it. Then, later in the year, when it’s almost too late, they will exercise their senior water rights to irrigate. Our rivers will be significantly drained, forcing many municipalities to start rationing.

This is a warning that “normal,” may be worse that the experts expect. In future columns, we will explore both practical and possible alternatives to alleviate part of this looming water crisis.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Garrison Wells):

Typically precipitation in February in the Springs is 0.21 inches. So far this month, the area is at 0.85 inches, said Mike Nosko, meteorological technician with the National Weather Service in Pueblo. Overall snowfall in the Springs so far this month is at 9.8 inches, with 7.3 inches of that blanketing the ground Wednesday night, he said.

From CoCoRaHS:

The highest 24-hour totals reported by CoCoRaHS were from observers in central Kansas. However, the area of heaviest snow was rather broad and extended into southern Nebraska and western Missouri with amounts of 10 inches and more common. South of the main snow areas, freezing rain glazed streets, trees, and power lines from Arkansas northeast through central Indiana. Ice accumulations of one quarter to one half inch were reported by CoCoRaHS observers in Arkansas this morning.


Drought news: ‘Drought feeds on drought’ — Brian Bledsoe

February 22, 2013

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During his presentation at the Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention forecaster Brian Bledsoe said, “Drought feeds on drought.” Click on the thumbnail graphic to check out the latest seasonal drought forecast from the climate prediction center along with this week’s U.S. Drought Monitor map from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

From the Associated Press (Josh Funk) via the Albuquerque Journal. From the article:

Experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center and the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln released their latest predictions Thursday.

Currently, 56 percent of the continental U.S. is covered by some form of drought. That’s an improvement from last summer, when the drought covered two-thirds of the nation.

The drought forecast calls for conditions to improve somewhat in eastern Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Georgia and South Carolina. But the February-through-May drought forecast predicts conditions will worsen overall this spring, NOAA climatologist Dan Collins said.

And below-average precipitation is expected this spring in most Western states and the southeastern United States.

As a result, the drought is expected to spread from southern California to cover nearly the entire state. All of Arizona, most of Texas and most of Florida also are expected to be affected…

“We’re trying to figure out whether this is the new normal — is this climate change? Or is this just another 10-year drought?” said [Debbie Davis], who ranches northwest of San Antonio.

Here’s the Drought Update from the recent CWCB Water Availability Task Force Meeting (Taryn Finnessey):

Late January brought beneficial moisture to the four corners region of the state, decreasing the drought severity in the southwest. However, the eastern plains remain exceptionally dry and have seen an expansion of D4 classification according to the US Drought monitor. Early February also brought above average temperatures for much of the state. While mountain snowpack has improved in some portions of the state, it has declined in others, and all basins remain below normal for water year precipitation and snowpack. Many water providers are preparing for continued drought conditions throughout the spring and summer. The state is working with providers to help ensure all essential needs are met.

  • As of the February 12, 2013 US Drought Monitor, 100% of Colorado is experiencing some level of drought classification. D1 (moderate) and D2 (severe) and cover 49% of the state, while D3 (extreme) accounts for an additional 26%. One fourth of the state is now experiencing exceptional drought (D4), which is isolated to the eastern plains.
  • Despite beneficial moisture in some portions of the state during January and early February that boosted snowpack to 91% of average in the Southwest and 81% in the Rio Grande basin; the state as a whole remains at 76% of normal for the water year.*
  • The South Platte is experiencing the lowest snowpack in the state at 59% of normal followed by the Arkansas at 65%. The North Platte, Yampa/White, Colorado and Gunnison are at 72, 76, 70 and 78% of normal, respectively.*
  • Given current conditions 143% of normal precipitation is needed to reach the average peak snowpack, which typically occurs on April 8th. There is a 10% chance that this will occur.
  • Municipalities and water providers are actively preparing to respond to continued drought conditions with both mandatory and voluntary watering restrictions throughout the spring and summer demand season. Many are reporting storage levels below 50% of capacity.
  • Statewide reservoir storage is at 69% of average and 38% of capacity. The highest storage levels are in the Yampa/ White River Basin, at 103% of average while the lowest storage in the state is the Rio Grande River basin at 51% of average. All other basins range from 57% to 80% of average and 18% 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 isolated areas of the state following recent precipitation, yet all values remain negative.
  • NRCS is forecasting below average streamflows for the entire state, with most of the basins falling within the 50-69% of average forecast range for April 1st.
  • * The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) uses a 30 year running average that is updated every ten years. The transition to the new “normal” period of 1981-2010 began in early 2013 (previous months used the 1971-2000 period). NRCS is also transitioning to the use of median rather than average to define normal. Please keep in mind that this transition will affect the data when presented as a percent of normal.

    From The New York Times (Jack Healy):

    Across the West, lakes are half full and mountain snows are thin, omens of another summer of drought and wildfire. Complicating matters, many of the worst-hit states now have even less water on hand than a year ago, raising the specter of shortages and rationing that could inflict another year of losses on struggling farms.

    Reservoir levels have fallen sharply in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. The soil is drier than normal. And while a few recent snowstorms have cheered skiers, the snowpack is so thin in parts of Colorado that the government has declared an “extreme drought” around the ski havens of Vail and Aspen.

    “We’re worse off than we were a year ago,” said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center.

    This week’s blizzard brought a measure of relief to the Plains when it dumped more than a foot of snow. But it did not change the basic calculus for forecasters and officials in the drought-scarred West. Ranchers are straining to find hay — it is scarce and expensive — to feed cattle. And farmers are fretting about whether they will have enough water to irrigate their fields.

    “It’s approaching a critical situation,” said Mike Hungenberg, who grows carrots and cabbage on a 3,000-acre farm in northern Colorado. There is so little water available this year, he said, that he may scale back his planting by a third, and sow less thirsty crops, like beans…

    In Northern Colorado, a combination of drought and wildfire is shutting off the spigot for scores of farmers. Cities are worried about ash and sediment flowing from the burn areas into the rivers that supply their water, so they are holding onto every drop possible this year and not selling any water to local farmers.

    In 2011, the Northern Colorado city of Greeley alone leased enough water to irrigate 13,000 acres of farmland — representing millions of dollars in wages for farmhands, seed money, fertilizer sales and profits for farmers. Every year, just after midnight on Jan. 1, farmers start calling the city to sign up to lease the surplus water. This year, Greeley had to call them all back to say there was none to be had.

    Eldon Ackerman, who grows sugar beets, pinto beans and alfalfa on his farm in Wellington, said he only had water supplies for about one-third of his fields. He was praying the spring snow and rains would come to save him. If they do not, he said he might have to let 1,000 acres lie fallow this year.

    From The Los Angeles Times (Neela Banerjee):

    While the report said the drought was over in most of the nation east of the Mississippi River, the portion of the country still facing drought — most of the West and Florida — should expect it “to persist or intensify.”

    “The 2012-2013 drought has serious implications for agriculture, navigation, recreation and municipal water supplies, costing the nation at least $35 billion in economic losses,” said the outlook, which was developed by a federal interagency group and issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

    A growing body of research suggests that extreme weather patterns such as drought are being driven by climate change. As a result, federal, state and local agencies are trying to prepare for protracted drought in different parts of the country.

    There are “webinars” for Great Plains ranchers to raise livestock in drought conditions, and handbooks for cities to make them “drought-resilient.” In Thebes, Ill., the Army Corps of Engineers is blowing up rock formations in the Mississippi River to make it navigable when the water is low. Emergency management staff members in Texas are readying for the possibility that some communities might run short of water, said Veva Deheza of NOAA.

    NOAA predicted that most of the United States would have higher-than-usual temperatures over the next three months and that much of the West, down through Texas, the Gulf Coast and the Southeast would have below-normal precipitation.

    Snowpack in several river basins in Colorado, Wyoming and Mew Mexico is “less than 50% of normal,” the outlook said. If the snowpack does not recover in the next two months, farms and municipalities in California and other Western states could face considerable challenges this summer.

    The Interior Department identified areas of concern for greater wildfire risk, including Upper Plains states like the Dakotas and Montana; the Southwest; Florida; and eastern Colorado down into Oklahoma and Texas.


    The Gore Canyon Whitewater Park at Pumphouse takes a big step forward — dough from the CWCB #coriver

    February 22, 2013

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    From the Grand Junction Free Press (Caroline Bradford):

    At their recent board meeting, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) members awarded Grand County $500,000 from the Water Supply Reserve Account (WSRA) to help construct whitewater features in the Colorado River at the popular BLM recreational boating site west of Kremmling.

    Over $39 million has been awarded to hundreds of water projects across the state since the WSRA’s inception by the Colorado Legislature in 2007. This is the first award for a project that is primarily for recreational purposes.

    “The time has come to recognize non-consumptive water rights have a place at the table in Colorado,” said CWCB’s Colorado Basin Director Russell George. “Just a few years ago, this would have been inconceivable, but we’re evolving.”[...]

    The proposed $1.7 million whitewater park will take at least another couple years to bring to fruition. Partnerships with other funders are needed to leverage the major investment Grand County has made to date. Approximately $500,000 more must be raised from boaters and other partners before construction can begin.

    The Colorado Water Conservation Board members noted the broad and diverse support for the project. Endorsements for the grant came from Denver Water, Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, Colorado River District, Eagle County Commissioners, Summit County Commissioners, Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, Colorado Trout Unlimited and American Whitewater. Additionally, over 100 boaters sent passionate letters of support to CWCB for the project. During the 2012 Gorefest Race, kayakers enthusiastically pledged funds to help Grand County build the park.

    This major capital investment in recreation infrastructure is expected to create a good financial return for Grand County and the State of Colorado. According to the 2012 Year End Commercial River Use Report just released by the Colorado River Outfitters Association, commercial boating on the Upper Colorado River through Grand County, Eagle County and Glenwood Springs already provides an economic impact of over $32 million annually to the state. In 2012, there were 39,645 commercial passengers and about 40,000 private boaters who floated this reach. Only the Arkansas River had more users.

    The accessible new feature on the Upper Colorado River above Launch #2 at Pumphouse will provide additional opportunities for kayakers and stand-up paddle boarders to perfect their skills. This park-and-play whitewater park will be situated between the exhilarating Class IV-V Gore Canyon run and the splashy, scenic Class II-III section below Pumphouse. Even in low water years, this family-friendly reach has consistent flows all summer due to upstream reservoir releases for farmers and other downstream water users in the Colorado Basin.

    To learn more about how you can help Grand County bring the Gore Canyon Whitewater Park to life, contact project coordinator CarolineBradford@wildblue.net.

    More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.


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