Snowpack news: ‘So we’re below the worst year ever so far’ — Rick Bly #CODrought


Click on the thumbnail graphic for the Colorado River Basin High/Low snowpack graph from November 29. It does not reflect any snowfall from the disturbance that went through the mountains yesterday.

From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):

The first two months (October and November) of the 2013 water year have been among the driest on record in Breckenridge, where weather observer Rick Bly tracks precipitation on a daily basis, adding to a data set that goes back more than 100 years.

Bly tallied just four inches of snowfall in November, only about 20 percent of the 20.9 inches that’s average for the month. That snow melted down to just .26 inches of water, compare to the average 1.5 inches for the month. The historic average snowfall for October and November combined is about 33 inches. This year Bly has measured just 12 inches, less than about 64 percent below the average. Less than 1 inch of moisture has accumulated for the year to-date.

“I’ve been looking through the worst of the worst,” Bly said, explaining that was looking for similarly dry years. What he found is that, so far this year is tracking even behind 1980-81, when the entire season brought only 57 inches. In that winter, October and November snowfall total 15.4 inches.

“So we’re below the worst year ever so far,” he said, adding that odds favor continued dry conditions after a dry early season. That doesn’t mean it’s a sure thing — there have been other seasons that started dry and turned wet in the heart of winter, but all things being equal, there’s not much reason to believe that the winter will bring significant drought relief…

Many of the state’s rivers and streams are flowing near historic lows, with streams farther west especially hard-hit, according to Ken Neubecker, director of the Western Rivers Institute. Attending a water conservation roundtable in Silverthorne, Neubecker said Monday that Pitkin County streams like the Crystal River and the Roaring Fork have all reached historic low flows for this time of year.

From Steamboat Today

The 3 inches of snow that fell at mid-mountain on Steamboat Ski Area early Monday morning didn’t amount to a game changer, but it was the most that fell at any Colorado ski area currently operating. Colorado Ski Country USA reported that Copper Mountain and Crested Butte each picked up 1 inch of snow overnight Sunday, and Loveland chimed in with a half-inch. Vail also reported 1 inch. A weather station between downtown Steamboat and the mountain reported just more than 1 inch of snow.

From The Aspen Times (Scott Condon):

The snowpack at Independence Pass east of Aspen is at 40 percent of average for Nov. 30, according to data from an automated snow-measurement site maintained by the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service.

For the Roaring Fork River basin as a whole — which engulfs 1,451 square miles, including the Fryingpan and Crystal river watersheds — the snowpack is at 43 percent.

To put the dry fall into perspective, the Roaring Fork Conservancy reported Thursday that Schofield Pass has the beefiest snowpack in the basin right now, but it’s only half of what it was in 2002 — another major drought year…

The Roaring Fork River near Aspen was flowing at 18 cubic feet per second on Thursday. The median flow for that date is 29 cfs. An in-stream flow of 32 cfs is advised for river health…

All of Pitkin County is considered in severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Large parts of the state are in extreme drought, and part of the eastern plains is considered in exceptional drought…

Precipitation in western Colorado has been below average for 10 months this year. It’s only been above average for one month, in July. And there’s cause for concern to start the winter, Kuhn said. While scattered snow showers are expected on some days over the next week, no major storm systems appear to be developing. If western Colorado reaches mid- to late-December with a lower-than-average snowpack, it would be difficult, though not impossible, to catch up, [Eric Kuhn] said.

From Aspen Public Radio (Luke Runyon):

Colorado’s drought is unrelenting. Much of the state is still under severe and extreme drought. That’s left the state’s reservoirs below where they need to be. And water managers are already starting to hedge their bets in case of another dry winter. Driving around the state, it’s no secret that Colorado’s dozens of reservoirs are low. Muddy shorelines can be seen on nearly all of them. But some of that is normal for this time of year. Reservoirs are always low in the late fall after irrigation season has ended.

“So to a certain extent you would expect that this time of year,” says Colorado Division of Water Resources engineer Kevin Rein. “However, looking statewide, the reservoirs are actually about 70 to 80 percent of what their average level would be right now.” That means many reservoirs are missing a fourth of the water they usually hold. Rein says the numbers aren’t alarming, but they’re enough to make water managers wary. And Rein says all eyes will be on this winter’s snowpack.

Meanwhile, 2012 is heading for the history books as the warmest year on record. Here’s a release from the World Meteorological Organization:

The years 2001–2011 were all among the warmest on record, and, according to the World Meteorological Organization, the first ten months indicate that 2012 will most likely be no exception despite the cooling influence of La Niña early in the year.

WMO’s provisional annual statement on the state of the global climate also highlighted the unprecedented melt of the Arctic sea ice and multiple weather and climate extremes which affected many parts of the world. It was released today to inform negotiators at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Doha, Qatar.

January-October 2012 has been the ninth warmest such period since records began in 1850. The global land and ocean surface temperature for the period was about 0.45°C (0.81°F) above the corresponding 1961–1990 average of 14.2°C, according to the statement.

The year began with a weak-to-moderate strength La Niña, which had developed in October 2011. The presence of a La Niña during the start of a year tends to have a cooling influence on global temperatures, and this year was no different. After the end of the La Niña in April 2012, the global land and ocean temperatures rose increasingly above the long-term average with each consecutive month. The six-month average of May–October 2012 was among the four warmest such periods on record.

“Naturally occurring climate variability due to phenomena such as El Niño and La Niña impact on temperatures and precipitation on a seasonal to annual scale. But they do not alter the underlying long-term trend of rising temperatures due to climate change as a result of human activities,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.

“The extent of Arctic sea ice reached a new record low. The alarming rate of its melt this year highlighted the far-reaching changes taking place on Earth’s oceans and biosphere. Climate change is taking place before our eyes and will continue to do so as a result of the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which have risen constantly and again reached new records,” added Mr Jarraud.

The Arctic reached its lowest annual sea ice extent since the start of satellite records on 16 September at 3.41 million square kilometers. This was 18% less than the previous record low of 18 September, 2007. The 2012 minimum extent was 49 percent or nearly 3.3 million square kilometers (nearly the size of India) below the 1979–2000 average minimum. Some 11.83 million square kilometers of Arctic ice melted between March and September 2012.

WMO will release a 10-year report on the state of the climate, “2001-2010, A Decade of Extremes” on 4 December 2012. It was produced in partnership with other United Nations and international agencies and highlights the warming trend for the entire planet, its continents and oceans during the past decade, with an indication of its impacts on health, food security and socio-economic development.

Highlights of 2012 provisional statement

During the first ten months of 2012, above-average temperatures affected most of the globe’s land surface areas, most notably North America (warmest on record for contiguous United States of America), southern Europe, western and central Russia and northwestern Asia. Much of South America and Africa experienced above average temperatures during the first ten months of the year, with the most anomalous warmth across parts of northern Argentina and northern Africa. Much of Asia had above-average temperatures, with cooler-than-average conditions across parts of northern China. South Asia and the Pacific were also predominantly warmer than normal, except for Australia.

Extremes: Notable extreme events were observed worldwide, but some parts of the Northern Hemisphere were affected by multiple extremes during January–October 2012.

  • Heat waves: Major heat waves impacted the Northern Hemisphere during the year, with the most notable in March–May across the continental United States of America and Europe. Warm spells during March 2012 resulted in many record-breaking temperatures in Europe and nearly 15,000 new daily records across the USA. Russia witnessed the second warmest summer on record after 2010. Numerous temperature records were broken in Morocco in summer.

    Drought: According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, nearly two-thirds of the continental United States (65.5 percent) was considered to be in moderate to exceptional drought on 25 September 2012. Drought conditions impacted parts of western Russia and western Siberia during June and July, and Southeast Europe, the Balkans and some Mediterranean countries during summer. In China, the Yunnan and southwestern Sichuan province experienced severe drought during winter and spring. Northern Brazil witnessed the worst drought in 50 years. The April–October precipitation total, in Australia was 31 percent below normal.

    Floods: Many parts of western Africa and the Sahel, including Niger and Chad, suffered serious flooding between July and September because of a very active monsoon. Heavy rainfall from the end of July through early October prompted exceptional floods across Nigeria. Parts of southern China experienced their heaviest rainfall in the last 32 years in April and May. Devastating monsoonal floods impacted Pakistan during September. Central and parts of northern Argentina suffered from record rainfall and flooding in August, and parts of Colombia were affected by heavy precipitation for most of the year.

    Snow and Extreme Cold: A cold spell on the Eurasian continent from late January to mid-February was notable for its intensity, duration, and impact. Across eastern Russia, temperatures ranged between -45°C to -50°C during the end of January. Several areas of eastern Europe reported minimum temperatures as low as -30°C, with some areas across northern Europe and central Russia experiencing temperatures below -40°C.

  • Tropical Cyclones: Global tropical cyclone activity for the first ten months was near the 1981–2010 average of 85 storms, with a total of 81 storms (wind speeds greater or equal than 34 knots, or 63 kilometers per hour). The Atlantic basin experienced an above-average hurricane season for a third consecutive year with a total of 19 storms, with ten reaching hurricane status, the most notably being Sandy, which wreaked havoc across the Caribbean and the USA East Coast. Throughout the year, East Asia was severely impacted by powerful typhoons. Typhoon Sanba was the strongest cyclone, globally, to have formed in 2012. Sanba impacted the Philippines, Japan, and the Korean Peninsula, dumping torrential rain and triggering floods and landslides that affected thousands of people and caused millions in U.S. dollars in damage.

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