Snowpack/runoff news: May precipitation 290% of normal in Montezuma County #drought

San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan Basin High/Low graph May 28, 2015 via the NRCS
San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan Basin High/Low graph May 28, 2015 via the NRCS

From the Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

Local meteorologist Jim Andrus reported that so far this year, southwest Colorado has received 6.52 inches of rain, with 2.41 inches falling this month alone.

“That puts us at 141 percent of normal for the year,” he said.

In May 2.41 inches have fallen so far, he said, and the 30-year average is .83 inches.

“May has been extraordinary, and is almost three times the norm for precipitation,” Andrus said. “It is the wettest May since at least 1998 when I began keeping records.”

The moisture has produced significant snow above 10,000 feet in the La Plata and San Juan Mountains. The additional moisture has bumped up low snowpack levels in the region as well.

According to the Natural Resource Conservation Service, combined snowpack levels for the Dolores, Animas, San Miguel, and San Juan river basins is at 86 percent of normal, up from 61 percent of normal in February.

The recent rainy trend is because of a low-pressure ridge that guided in moisture from the Pacific, Andrus said.

“It replaced a high-pressure ridge that we had all winter, blocking the storms and giving us a dry winter,” he said…

Durango has experienced its wettest May in at least 16 years, and more rain may be on the way.

By Tuesday, 2.9 inches of precipitation had fallen at Durango-La Plata County Airport. Records at that location date to 2000. The second-wettest May came in 2011, when 1.29 inches fell.

Last year saw only 0.68 inches of May precipitation.

From CBS Denver (Chris Spears):

One year ago the region [souteastern Colorado] was gripped by a multi-year drought that created conditions similar to those of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.

Grass fires were becoming a common scene and widespread dust storms were a frequent visitor.

One year later it’s a completely different story after a month of record rain essentially wiped out the drought.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Ellie Mulder):

At 7 p.m. Friday the city broke the previous record of 8.1 inches of precipitation, after getting an official total of .22 inches Friday, the National Weather Service said. The previous record was set in 1935.

“What’s been really interesting is how many days it’s rained – it wasn’t just a few big rains,” said Nolan Doesken, the state climatologist at Colorado State University’s Colorado Climate Center.

It is unusual that Colorado Springs’ wettest month came outside of the typical southern Colorado wet season of July and August, according to Doesken…

This spring, considered the months of March through May, also is the fourth wettest spring on record, with a total of 9.84 inches of precipitation, according to National Weather Service statistics from Thursday.

While the rain is falling at lower elevations, the snow is piling up atop Pikes Peak.

On Friday, the drifts were 15 feet high on the west and east sides of the Summit House.

The Pikes Peak Highway is open to mile marker 15, the Double Cut between Glen Cove and Devil’s Playground. That leaves four miles to the summit uncleared. Under ideal conditions, crews hope to have the road open to Devil’s Playground early next week and to the 14,115-foot summit in about 10 days…

Although this is an El Niño year, which typically results in warm oceanic temperatures that impact precipitation, National Weather Service meteorological technician Randy Gray emphasized that the location of these sea surface temperatures has caused the abnormal increase in moist weather systems.

“The location of the warm temperatures along the equator has helped steer these systems our way,” Gray said…

This increased precipitation in Colorado Springs is part of a multi-state weather pattern that has resulted in unusually high amounts of rain from southern California into Colorado, parts of Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, according to Doesken.

“This has been a total drought-buster for the southern area,” Doesken said.

From the High Country News (Cally Carswell):

Lest the residents of sunshine states forget: This rain, we needed it, even if California needed it just a bit more. It may save us yet from a June spent choking on smoke. For now, the wildfire risk in much of the Intermountain West is not above normal, though that may change in July and August in the Northern Rockies, when wildfire season usually gets going there.

The rains won’t save us from all of our drought-related ills, however. That still takes snow, and this winter was not generous with it throughout much of the West. Snowpack usually peaks in the region around April 1, but this year at that time, thanks to a balmy March and an unremarkable dusting, it was rapidly melting out.

Nearly two months later, snowpacks look misleadingly good in parts of Colorado and New Mexico, where conditions for this time of year are above average thanks to late snow in the mountains at a time it would usually be waning. The new snow doesn’t make up for its lack earlier in the year, nor the long, slow melt-out that would contribute to deep soil moisture.

That said, the rains and snows of May have improved soil moisture at shallow depths. They’ve also been good for streamflows in some places, and beneficial for overall water supply, according to the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center, by reducing demand early in irrigation season.

The expected inflow into major reservoirs is still expected to be low, however. Projections for inflow into Lake Powell from April to July remain at just 42 percent of average. And as we reported recently, Lake Mead has hit a record low. It’s just three feet above the level which will trigger mandatory curtailments in Arizona and Nevada. Meanwhile, Elephant Butte, one of the major reservoirs on the Rio Grande, is only 20 percent full.

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