@NASAClimate Snowex project

SnowEx aircraft, February 17, 2016.
SnowEx aircraft, February 17, 2016.

From The Durango Herald (Jessica Pace):

NASA’s three-week field study of snow conditions in the Silverton and Grand Mesa areas ends Saturday, after which scientists will analyze the data in an effort to develop satellites to provide snow observation data critical to water management.

On Tuesday, NASA deployed three aircraft and had about 50 researchers on the ground for the last days of data collection.

“It takes some time after we get out of the field to fully analyze the data,” said Ed Kim, a physical scientist at NASA. “We don’t have any significant findings this early. We’re always at the mercy of whatever weather we happen to get, and we know warm, wet weather has impacted the project. We’ll find out what that impact is.”

People throughout the snow research community from Canada, Europe and the U.S. volunteered their time for the effort. Researchers on the ground spent the past three weeks taking measurements, including the variation of snow depth, and digging snow pits to study the vertical structure and composition of snow layers from the surface to the ground. The team also mounted sensors to snowmobiles. The data collected on the ground will be compared to the accuracy of measurements taken from aircraft.

“That’s really critical to understand what airborne sensors are seeing,” Kim said.

Researchers used a combination of instruments to collect data on the snow, including radar and LIDAR, which stands for light detection and ranging, to measure snow depth and density, thermal infrared sensors to gauge temperature, and a hyperspectral imager and multispectral imager to measure how much sunlight the snow reflects and how fast it consequently will melt. NASA also used a passive microwave, which can gauge how much natural microwave radiation is blocked by snow.

NASA’s goal is to use the research to develop a multi-sensor satellite to study snow and predict water content, which would be a watershed invention for science. Snow impacts drinking water, agriculture and industry across the globe, yet there is no comprehensive instrument to measure it. SnowEx is sponsored by the Terrestrial Hydrology Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., and managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

NASA’s Colorado expedition marks the first of a five-year snow study called SnowEx. Kim said NASA will spend the second year analyzing the data collected this month in the Senator Beck Basin, just north of Red Mountain Pass, and Grand Mesa, east of Grand Junction, as well as making plans for the final three years of the study.

Kim said NASA’s conclusions over the next year from this winter’s study will determine the next steps…

NASA selected the Senator Beck Basin near Silverton and the Grand Mesa area to conduct research because the two areas offer varied terrain and snow conditions. Moreover, scientists want to develop an instrument that can observe snow hidden in forested areas.

Upper #ColoradoRiver #snowpack raises hopes of avoiding Mead shortage declaration #COriver

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 21, 2017 via the NRCS.
Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map February 21, 2017 via the NRCS.

From the Las Vegas Review-Journal (Henry Brean):

Federal forecasters now expect the reservoir to avoid its first federal shortage declaration next year, thanks to the boost it should get from what could wind up as the wettest winter on the river’s basin in 20 years.

“We’re in for a good year, no doubt about it,” said Randy Julander, snow survey supervisor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Salt Lake City.

Storms in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming over the past month have added more than 3 million acre-feet to the water supply forecast for the Colorado. That’s a 10-year supply for Nevada, which gets 300,000 acre-feet from the river each year and uses it to supply the Las Vegas Valley with 90 percent of its drinking water.


The latest forecast from the National Weather Service’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center calls for the surface of Lake Mead to start 2018 about 3 feet above the trigger line for a shortage declaration that would force Nevada and Arizona to reduce their river use.

Projections in January called for slightly below average flows on the Colorado through this summer, resulting in an 11-foot drop that would take the lake below the shortage line.

Forecasters now expect 9.6 million acre-feet of snowmelt — 134 percent of the average for the past 30 years — to make its way into the river between April and July.

One acre-foot of water is enough to supply two typical valley homes for just over a year. The Colorado River provides water to some 40 million people in the U.S. and Mexico.

Some monitoring stations on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains show roughly twice as much snow as usual for this time of year, and Julander said it is very wet and “ripe” to begin melting into the river system.

“We’ve seen a dramatic and substantial increase in snowpack and soil moisture,” he said. “January and February were absolutely outstanding. It feels good to say that.”

Heavy snow and rain in California also could take some pressure off the overburdened Colorado. The Golden State draws more water from the river than anyone and might be able curb its use and store more of its supply in Lake Mead now that its own reservoirs are filling again following heavy rains in the lowlands and snowfall in the Sierra Nevada.

From The Fort Morgan Times (Jenni Grubbs):

As of Feb. 21, Colorado’s snowpack was sitting at 140 percent of what is considered normal, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

That amount has dropped some, though, as only a week earlier, the statewide snowpack was at 147 percent of normal.

Still, this bodes well for Fort Morgan in terms of having plenty of water this summer and fall. It also looks good for Northern Water, which provides that water to the city through the Colorado-Big Thompson pipeline.

“Late spring and early summer snowmelt and runoff from the Rocky Mountains provides most of Colorado’s water supply,” Northern Water’s website explains. “Greater snowpack means favorable water supplies; lower amounts can signal an impending drought.”

The two major river basins that play roles in the water supply for the C-BT pipeline are the Upper Colorado and South Platte, and they had snowpacks of 147 and 142 percent, respectively, in mid-February. Those percentage fell to 140 and 132 as of Feb. 21…

But even with the dips over the last week, the numbers were still well above normal. That could continue to be the case, according to Northern Water.

“The most probable streamflow forecasts are also well above average,” the water district stated.

Further, the C-BT pipeline’s water storage level was “above average” at the start of February, tracking at 121 percent of normal as of Feb. 1.

@ColoradoClimate: Weekly Climate, Water and #Drought Assessment of the Intermountain West

Intermountain West month to date precipitation through February 15, 2017 via the Colorado Climate Center.
Intermountain West month to date precipitation through February 15, 2017 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.