Drought news: Southern Colorado continues to dry out, D0 expanded northeast #COdrought

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor website.

Click here to go to the website. Here’s an excerpt:


A weather system moving in the upper-level westerly flow brought swaths of precipitation to the Pacific Northwest, Great Plains, and Midwest early in this U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week. Another upper-level weather system stalled out later in the week as it moved across the contiguous United States (CONUS), generating violent weather and locally heavy precipitation, especially along and east of the Mississippi River. Precipitation was below normal across much of the Southwest, southern Plains, and coastal Southeast. Weekly temperatures averaged below-normal in the northern states and in the West, but above normal from the Plains to the Southeast…

The Plains

Bands of 2-4 inches of rain fell across parts of the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas this week, but the western portions of Nebraska and Kansas largely missed out on the precipitation. The precipitation from this week’s slow-moving upper low replenished topsoil moisture, but subsoil moisture was slow to respond, limiting any improvement. USDA observations improved only slightly, with 53% of Nebraska and 67% of Kansas topsoil still rated short or very short of moisture as of April 27. D0 was pulled back in South Dakota, a D0 hole was added to south central Nebraska, D1 was contracted in eastern Nebraska, and D2 was pulled back in south central Nebraska and north central Kansas. But deterioration occurred in the Nebraska panhandle, where D0 expanded, and in western and southern Kansas, where D2-D3 expanded…

The West

Widespread 2+ inches of precipitation fell along coastal Washington and Oregon, with locally 5+ inches of precipitation. Along the Sierra in California, in the northern Rockies, and in parts of northern Nevada and Utah, 1-3 inches of precipitation was reported. Half an inch to 2 inches of precipitation occurred over the Colorado Rockies, and 0.5-1.0 inch was reported in other parts of the West. But the precipitation was largely hit or miss, with other areas receiving only a few tenths of an inch, and much of southern California, Arizona, and New Mexico getting no precipitation. Improvement in the drought depiction occurred in the Northwest, where D0-D2 was pulled back in northeast Washington and parts of Oregon, but D3 expanded in parts of southwest and southeast Oregon. D2-D4 expanded across parts of New Mexico to reflect both short-term precipitation deficits as well as lingering long-term deficits, some stretching over the course of 4 years. D0-D3 expanded in northeast Colorado to reflect dryness at the 30 day to 6 month timescales. D2 was added to Duchesne Co. in northeast Utah and D1-D2 expanded in southeast Utah and southwest Colorado to reflect dryness at 120 days. In the Four Corners area, the town of Monticello, Utah has major water supply problems. With their reservoir at a critically low level, groundwater wells were drilled for supplemental supply. Even with conservation, they have at most one season of water supply. If snowpack is low again next year, they will have very little water available for municipal supply.

Looking Ahead
As a slow-moving upper-level weather system gradually exits the CONUS, it will leave behind an inch or more of precipitation along the East Coast, with 2-4 inches possible in parts of the Northeast and eastern Gulf of Mexico Coast. In addition, the NWS HPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) calls for 1-2 inches of precipitation along the northern tier states, but no precipitation across the Southwest and southern Plains to Lower Mississippi Valley. Temperatures for May 1-6 should be below normal in the central CONUS as the upper low and surface cold front migrate eastward, and above normal in the West. Colder-than-normal air slides into the northern states during May 3-8.

The 6-10 day and 8-14 day outlooks indicate that a change in the upper-level circulation pattern, consisting of a trough over western North America and a ridge over the east, is predicted for May 6-14, bringing warmer-than-normal temperatures for Alaska and the southern Plains to Northeast, and below-normal temperatures for the West to northern Great Lakes. Precipitation is expected to be above normal for much of Alaska and the CONUS, except for the immediate West Coast of the CONUS, Southeast, and extreme Southwest.

From KOAA (Tony Spehar):

Colorado’s snowpack level is 102-percent of normal, offering an encouraging sign for farmers who depend on the water from spring runoff which is expected to start earlier this year.

In Crowley County residents are hopeful the expected boost in moisture as temperatures climb will put an end to a problem they’ve been dealing with for days now, high winds have created massive dust storms and dirt has accumulated on almost every solid surface in the path of the winds.

“All a person can really think about is the Dust Bowl in a situation like this where sometimes you can’t even see your hands in front of your face,” said Gary Pfalzbot, who lives on County Road D near Ordway. “There’s no beast or critter alive that can get out of this.”

The news of the above average snowpack this year is encouraging, but water experts are remaining cautiously optimistic. Though the Arkansas River snowpack is listed as 92-percent of normal, much of Southern Colorado is still considered to be facing severe drought conditions. A good snowpack year is great, but one helpful year can only go so far to reduce the drought that’s plagued the region for several years.

“Say a prayer for the rain or snow,” Larry Pfalzbot said. “I’d even take hail at this point, small hail.”

From the Associated Press (Bobby Magill) via the Kitsap Sun:

Though the overall spread of dry conditions across the U.S. has diminished slightly over recent weeks, and about 15 percent over the past year, the drought hotspots in the West remain desiccated.

The driest places today are the places that have been dry for 2 or 3 years or longer: California, northwest Nevada and the southern Great Plains of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles, northeast New Mexico and along the Colorado-Kansas border.

In other words, drought is bringing the dust back to the Dust Bowl territory of the 1930s.

For those places, dealing with the threat of water scarcity, the specter of severe wildfires, and farmlands that are struggling to produce crops has become a way of life.

About 75 percent of Texas is so drought stricken that the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture declared 240 of the state’s 252 counties a drought disaster area last month. The worst of it is in the northern third of the state, where Dallas is experiencing its third driest year on record so far and dust storms have been sweeping across the Panhandle.

Farther north in eastern Colorado’s Arkansas River Valley, storms of tumbleweeds have been blocking roadways, irrigation canals and access to homes and schools, forcing local county officials to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars clearing the mountains of tumbleweeds from highways and overpasses…

California — 100 percent of it — remains under drought conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor released Thursday. Lasting relief isn’t expected to come until the fall — if it comes at all — and for now, reservoir levels remain low and wildland fire potential remains high throughout coastal California and the Sierra Nevada range.

Wildfire potential is also high in other drought-stricken areas of the West Coast through the summer, especially Northern California, central Oregon and northern Nevada.

The May 1 national wildland fire outlook for the summer season shows drought-ravaged southern New Mexico and Arizona to have a high scorch potential through the end of June when the summer monsoon rains are expected to kick in and improve wildfire conditions there.

A University of Utah study published in April shows that while the number of large wildfires is increasing across the West, there isn’t always a direct connection between drought and wildfires because forest management and other factors play a role in how and when wildfires burn.

For now, the only drought relief in sight anywhere in the West is in the Four Corners states, where the summer monsoons are expected to bring above-normal precipitation for Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, according to the National Climate Prediction Center’s three-month outlook issued in late April…

So, the drought on the West Coast is here to stay, and relief is likely to depend on the possible development of an El Niño in the Pacific. If that happens, relief could come when the snow season begins late this year.

And even if next winter is a wet one, that doesn’t necessarily mean the West’s drought disappears.

As Climate Prediction Center senior meteorologist David Miskus told Climate Central last month, it’s going to take several years of above-normal precipitation just to get California back to normal.

Colorado River’s New Flow Seen by Satellite #ColoradoRiver

Landsat view of Colorado River pulse flow in Mexico April 2014
Landsat view of Colorado River pulse flow in Mexico April 2014

From Live Science (Stephanie Pappas):

A release of water down the Colorado River may not reach the sea, as hoped. But it is visible from space.

A new satellite image from Landsat 8 captured a view of the Colorado on April 16. The river is typically dry by the time it gets to this spot in northern Mexico, its flow diverted to feed thirsty farms both in that country and in the United States. The Colorado River has only rarely reached the sea since 1960.

This spring, however, both countries agreed to release more water than usual from the Colorado’s dams in an effort to restore parched ecosystems, especially the Colorado Delta.

More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.

2014 Colorado legislation: Cañon City residents are cautiously optimistic for results from SB14-192

Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via The Denver Post
Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via The Denver Post

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

Residents here are thankful for bipartisan legislation passed [by the Senate] Wednesday that will help clean up groundwater contamination by Cotter Corp.’s uranium mill. The legislation will ensure that uranium mills clean up ongoing contamination of residents’ groundwater as expeditiously as possible, with the best available technology. The legislation will help give direction to the state health department as it oversees the cleanup, according to Chris Arend of Conservation Colorado.

Residents of the Lincoln Park neighborhood just north of the Cotter Uranium Mill site have been hooked up to city water so they can avoid using wells that have been contaminated by uranium and molybdenum which seeped from the mill site.

The neighborhood and Cotter mill have been part of a Superfund cleanup site since 1984.

“For my Lincoln Park neighbors, forsaking our historic use of our water wells was never an option. We knew we needed to keep fighting for full and active cleanup of our wells, not only to restore our current rights but for future residents,” said Sharyn Cunningham, a Lincoln Park resident who is co-chair of Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste.

“After 30 years of contamination and indifference, the residents of Lincoln Park saw significant movement in their campaign for the Cotter Corp. to finally clean up its mess,” said Pete Maysmith of Conservation Colorado. “No community should have to endure the long-term exposure to uranium and other contamination as the community of Canon City has.”

Cotter officials, along with state and federal health officials, are overseeing decommissioning and full cleanup now that the mill is closed.

More 2014 Colorado legislation coverage here. More nuclear coverage here.