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

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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.

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