#Drought news: #NewMexico, #Arizona await #monsoon #ColoradoRiver #COriver

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

Summary

Heavy rainfall in parts of the Southeast brought relief to dry areas in the Mid-Atlantic States. Parts of eastern Tennessee, western Maryland, northwest Virginia, and West Virginia all saw a one category reduction of D0-D1 areas. Other parts of the eastern U.S. didn’t fare as well. Warmer than normal temperatures and seasonally low rainfall accumulations led to the expansion of D0 in parts of central Massachusetts and western New York, the introduction of moderate drought in southern parts of New Hampshire and Maine, and the persistence of D0-D1 conditions in other areas. In the West, temperatures were 6 to 15 degrees above normal, leading to the expansion of D0 across the Pacific Northwest. Other changes include the introduction of D2 in southern Arizona and along the South Dakota-Wyoming border…

The Plains

Texas was once again the recipient of heavy rains keeping the state drought-free. Missing out on the rains, west Texas saw some localized expansion of D0. Continued dryness has begun to stress crops near the tri-border area of South Dakota, Minnesota, and North Dakota resulting in a small pocket of D1 being introduced in the area. Likewise, the recent dryness has been affecting vegetation and raising fire concerns near the Black Hills resulting in the introduction of D2 and the expansion of D0 bleeding into northeast Wyoming, southeast Montana, and southwest North Dakota…

The West

The changes on this week’s map included a deterioration in conditions in the Pacific Northwest and southeastern Arizona and improvement in southern New Mexico. Record heat (up to 12 degrees above normal) in the Northwest has resulted in early snowmelt, low stream flows, and increased evaporation leading to a push of D0 across the remainder of Oregon, Washington and the Idaho Panhandle. Long-term drought remains in California, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico as we move into the heat of summer. Southern Arizona has missed out on the winter and spring rain, deteriorating rangeland and leading to the introduction of D2 in the area. Recent rainfall (1-4 inches) in eastern New Mexico has improved D0 in the area. Southern New Mexico has also seen improved conditions and a trimming of D1. Potential for continued increases may be in store in the coming weeks with the start of the monsoon season…

Looking Ahead

Next week’s forecast (June 9-16) calls for hot and relatively dry conditions as a ridge moves across the Great Plains, Mississippi Valley, Ohio Valley, and Southeast. Significant rainfall accumulations are expected across the upper Midwest as thunderstorms move through the region. The National Weather Service 7-Day forecast also calls for dryness across much of California and northwestern Montana and accumulations of generally less than a half an inch across the lower elevations of the West. The Climate Prediction Center 6-10 day outlooks call for a continuation of above normal temperatures June 14-18 across the western two-thirds of the contiguous U.S. and Alaska and a relief to the recent warmth in the Pacific Northwest and New England. As for precipitation, the odds favor above-normal accumulations in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, the Midwest, and the South while the Plains and Northeast are likely to be below normal.

North American Monsoon graphic via Hunter College.
North American Monsoon graphic via Hunter College.

Weekly Climate, Water and Drought Assessment of the Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin #COriver

Upper Colorado River Basin May 2016 precipitation as a percent of normal via the Colorado Climate Center.
Upper Colorado River Basin May 2016 precipitation as a percent of normal via the Colorado Climate Center.

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center.

San Luis Valley: Stanford researchers calculate groundwater levels from satellite data

Here’s the release from Stanford University (Ker Than):

A new computer algorithm developed at Stanford University is enabling scientists to use satellite data to determine groundwater levels across larger areas than ever before.

Researchers from Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences have used satellite data and a new computer algorithm to gauge groundwater levels in Colorado’s San Luis Valley agricultural basin. (Image credit: Flickr)
Researchers from Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences have used satellite data and a new computer algorithm to gauge groundwater levels in Colorado’s San Luis Valley agricultural basin. (Image credit: Flickr)

The technique, detailed in the June issue of the journal Water Resources Research, could lead to better models of groundwater flow. “It could be especially useful in agricultural regions, where groundwater pumping is common and aquifer depletion is a concern,” said study coauthor Rosemary Knight, a professor of geophysics in the Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.

Knight and her colleagues recently applied the algorithm to determine groundwater levels across the entire agricultural basin of Colorado’s San Luis Valley. As a starting point, the algorithm uses data acquired using a satellite technology called Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar, or InSAR, to calculate changing groundwater levels in the San Luis Valley between 1992 and 2000.

InSAR satellites use electromagnetic waves to monitor tiny, centimeter-scale changes in the elevation of Earth’s surface. The program was initially developed in the 1980s by NASA to collect data on volcanoes, earthquakes and landslides, but Knight and her colleague Howard Zebker, a professor of geophysics and of electrical engineering at Stanford, have in recent years adapted the technology for groundwater monitoring.

The Stanford scientists, led by former postdoctoral scholar Jessica Reeves, had previously shown that changes in surface elevation could be correlated with fluctuations in groundwater levels. However, they were only able to do so for a relatively small area because they had to manually identify and analyze high-quality pixels in InSAR satellite images not covered by crops or other surface features that could obscure elevation measurements.

The new algorithm, developed by Jingyi “Ann” Chen, a Stanford postdoctoral researcher in Knight’s group, automates this previously time-consuming pixel selection process. “What we’ve demonstrated in this new study is a methodology that allows us to find high-quality InSAR pixels in many more locations throughout the San Luis Valley,” said Chen, who is first author of the new study.

Chen’s algorithm also goes a step further by filling in, or interpolating, groundwater levels in the spaces between pixels where high-quality InSAR data are not available. Interpolation is a form of averaging, but it requires high-quality InSAR data from places that are located near monitoring wells where groundwater levels are already known in order to calibrate the link between the InSAR data and groundwater levels. In the previous work led by Reeves, only three monitoring wells were “co-located” with high-quality InSAR pixels. Using the new algorithm, that number increased to 16.

As a result, the team was able to calculate surface deformations – and, by extension, groundwater levels – for the entire agricultural basin of the San Luis Valley, an area covering about 4,000 square meters – or about five times greater than the area for which groundwater levels were calculated in the prior study. What’s more, the team members were able to show how groundwater levels in the basin changed over time from 2007 to 2011 – the years when InSAR data that could be analyzed by the algorithm were available.

“Jessica showed that there was useful information in the InSAR-derived deformation, and Ann has made the technique for extracting that information reliable and practical,” Zebker said.

Having a continuous map of deformation in the San Luis Valley led to the team discovering that there is a delay between the time when groundwater is pumped out of an aquifer and when the ground sinks, or subsides, in response to the water removal. These time lags might be useful indicators of the geological properties of an aquifer, said Knight.

“In a sand aquifer, there is no time lag between when the water is pumped out and the ground surface deforms,” Knight said. “However, if clay is present, it will take much longer to deform in response to pumping, so there will be a detectable time lag.”

The next step, Zebker said, is to take the information about groundwater levels and aquifer characteristics extracted from InSAR satellites and incorporate it with data from other sources to develop improved models of groundwater flow.

“The goal is to take into account the full water budget,” Zebker said. “This means accounting for water recharge such as rainfall and for discharge sources such as evaporation and runoff.”

San Luis Valley Groundwater
San Luis Valley Groundwater

Radar blind spot exposes Southwest Colorado to dangerous storms — The Durango Herald

Graphic credit Cliff Vancura via The Durango Herald and Rocky Mountain PBS.
Graphic credit Cliff Vancura via The Durango Herald and Rocky Mountain PBS.

From the Cortez Journal via The Durango Herald (Jim Mimiaga):

“We can’t forecast what we can’t see, whether it’s water supply or extreme weather,” said Joe Busto, a researcher with the Colorado Water Conservation District.

Weather conditions and forecasts for the region rely on radar installations in Grand Junction, Flagstaff and Albuquerque. None of the stations detect low-altitude, dangerous conditions in an area that reaches from Alamosa west to the Grand Canyon, and from Gallup north to Moab, said Jim Pringle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

“We would like to see a radar station in that area,” he said. “On the weather maps, you can see the gap in your area where radar does not hit.”

Over the past few years, several severe and damaging storms hit the Four Corners without warning. They include:

On Feb. 22 and 23, 2015, a winter storm hit San Juan County, Utah, with forecasts for 11-16 inches of snow. The storm dumped up to 3 feet of snow in the northeast Navajo Nation, leaving waist-high drifts in some areas. The Navajo tribe declared a state of emergency. Local roads became impassable and an estimated 350 families were snowed in. Multiple power outages were reported, and cellphone towers were inoperable. Schools in Bluff and Montezuma Creek were closed until March 2 and 3, respectively, and schools in Monument Valley were closed through early March.

In summer 2015 on Southern Ute land, a funnel cloud was reportedly witnessed by government officials, but faraway radar stations couldn’t detect it. Residents had no warning.
On Sept. 23, 2015, a severe hailstorm at Vallecito Reservoir caught residents by surprise. The storm produced hailstones up to 1.25 inches in diameter and killed a mallard duck.

On Dec. 23-24, 2015, more than a foot of snow fell during a blizzard that caused white-out conditions and closed U.S. Highway 491 from Cortez to Monticello for 17 hours. The storm caused a 19-car pileup and stranded motorists. The potential for significant snowfall was missed because weather radar couldn’t see the changing, low-altitude storm.

In radar blind spots, on-the-ground weather watchers such as meteorologist Jim Andrus of Cortez provide the eyes for the Weather Service’s real-time weather data.

“I’ve had several incidents where there were no radar echoes showing up on the weather channel, but it’s raining or snowing outside,” Andrus said.

The lanky, silver-haired apartment manager with a weather-science mission is constantly looking up, monitoring the skies where technology fails. For 19 years, he’s filed regular reports to the NWS using the internet at the Cortez Public Library.

His on-the-ground reports often fill gaps in forecasts. In summer 2014, Andrus alerted the service to a severe storm that approached Cortez from a blind spot near Ute Mountain. The storm had the potential for hail and high winds, and NWS issued a warning based on Andrus’ report from the ground…

Radar just one set of eyes

The National Weather Service relies on three levels of reporting to provide forecasts for Four Corners residents. If one falls short, the forecast does too.

Satellite images show cloud activity from above and are valuable because they show the reach and route of storms. Ground-based radar, such as a Doppler system, looks into a cloud to determine the potential for precipitation and the severity of storms.

Blind spots are caused in part by the curvature of the Earth. When straight-line radar beams reach Southwest Colorado from the closest station in Grand Junction, they’re too high to do much good.

“In Durango for example, the radar’s lowest angle is 23,500 feet, but the top of winter storm clouds is at 18,000 feet,” Pringle said. “We’re not seeing the whole picture.”

In Cortez, the radar’s lowest reach is at an altitude of 23,000 feet. At Bluff, Utah, it’s 27,000 feet, and at the Navajo Nation south of Bluff, it’s 29,000 feet. In Pagosa Springs, it’s even worse, an altitude of 39,000 feet.

Radar benefits water supply

Since 2009, the Colorado Water Conservation District has partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to research the need for radar in Southwest Colorado for more accurate water supply forecasts in rivers and reservoirs.

The study placed a temporary Doppler radar at the San Luis Regional Airport in Alamosa during the 2014-15 winter and compared its water supply data with radar maps from the weather service’s faraway installations. “The forecast was four times more accurate,” said Busto, a water district researcher and an author of the study.

“We’re building a business case that the radar black hole is killing the water world because we’re not keeping track of how much water we have,” he said.

The temporary radar will return to the Alamosa airport next winter to continue the study.

“The benefits of better observations and forecasts are tremendous,” said Craig Cotten, a Division 3 engineer with the Colorado Division of Water Resources. “Our compact operations are based on stream flow forecasts. Inaccurate forecasts can cause unnecessary curtailment of ditches, over or under delivery of compact obligations and disruption of priority system.”

During a runoff period from the winter of 2013-14, for example, Grand Junction radar estimated 3,000 acre-feet of water for the southern San Juan Mountains, but the temporary radar in Alamosa showed 34,000 acre-feet of water supply.

Buston said local radar more accurately reads precipitation levels in low-altitude winter storms that tend to hug the mountains.

“In our part of the world, snowpack is our water bank, and people pay to lease shares, but when we are missing how much water there is, it’s like your banker not knowing how much is in your account,” Busto said.

For example, the study showed the 2013 water year forecast was 230,000 acre-feet, and the actual water supply was 344,000 acre-feet. The 2005 forecast was for 795,000 acre feet, but the actual water supply was 683,000 acre-feet.

Water forecasters say that by adding radar data to satellite images, Snotels and stream data in place now would improve local river runoff and reservoir forecasts.

What’s the cost?

In the water conservation board study, ideal locations for a permanent radar station were determined to be at regional airports in Alamosa, Durango and Montrose. Busto said the Cortez Municipal Airport is also a potential location for a Doppler radar station.

Depending on range capability, radar units cost between $2 million and $10 million, and are typically funded by state and federal governments. Portable units run about $500,000.

After the West Fork fires in 2013, a portable Doppler radar system was installed on Wolf Creek Pass to monitor flash flood conditions in the fire-damaged area.

Busto said it was effective in detecting storms capable of generating flash flood conditions, and warnings were issued. The same storms did not show up on radar systems in Grand Junction.

“Our mission is to protect lives and property, and the more resources we have to monitor weather, such as radar, then we can do that better,” Pringle said.

Busto pointed out that relying on satellite data to determine flash flood potential caused a “cry wolf” scenario for emergency managers. Every time satellite showed clouds in the area, erroneous warnings were sent out to residents, but nothing would happen.

Improved radar coverage would also improve airport operations, said Russ Machen, manager for Cortez Municipal Airport.

During winter storms, Machen relies on weather forecasts to plow the runways, and when the forecast is off, it can delay runway maintenance.

“The pilots would also appreciate more accurate regional radar to determine flight conditions,” he said.

#Runoff news: “As long as we stay hairy side up, no problem” — Jake Schalamon

Browns Canyon via BrownsCanyon.org
Browns Canyon via BrownsCanyon.org

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Seth Boster):

“As long as we stay hairy side up, no problem,” went [Jake Schalamon’s] rapid-fire narrative through a portion of river during which the bearded guide led the boat over a swift drop, then directed passengers to rock their raft vigorously in order to free it from a jutting rock.

“Peak season” looms over the Arkansas River Valley. The summer heat in coming weeks will melt the mountain snow, sending water rushing into the country’s top whitewater rafting destination and creating the fast, choppy waters that thrill-seekers crave. And judging by the above-average snowpack that remained firm through the cool spring, Stew Pappenfort predicts the Arkansas’ runoff will be especially strong.

“I think we’ll see high, if not very high, flows this year,” said the head ranger of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, which monitors a 152-mile stretch of the river between Leadville and Lake Pueblo State Park.

Pappenfort said last year’s peak season carried water flows above 6,000 cubic feet per second in some sections; Colorado Parks and Wildlife issues advisories for areas reading above 1,250 cfs. With such conditions pending, now is when Pappenfort offers advice to the public: Boaters should know the water they plan to take on and, most important, they should know themselves…

Traffic was up 3 percent on the Arkansas last year, according to a report released last month by the Colorado River Outfitters Association, and business owners along the river anticipate a similar increase this year…

Rafting in the state is rising with the waters – the 508,728 commercial user days logged in 2015 by the Colorado River Outfitters Association represents a 22 percent increase from only three years prior. The growth has brought $162 million to local economies in each of the past two years, according to CROA.

The growth also has brought more attention to rafting’s inherent risk. In 2014, a record-tying 14 people died boating Colorado’s rivers. Last year, that number was 13, above the state’s yearly average of 10 boating fatalities. Last month, the season had its first two deaths, the most recent being a 60-year-old woman who fell into the Arkansas rapids west of Cañon City. She was rafting with her husband and grandson.