An early-October winter wonderland in the mountains is always good news for Denver’s water supply.
Since June 2017, six additional weather and climate events impacted the nation that had direct, total costs exceeding $1 billion. These new events included the western U.S. wildfires, the Northern Plains drought, a severe weather event in the Midwest, and major Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. This brings the year-to-date total to 15 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters, tying 2011 for the record number of events during January–September. The record number of billion-dollar disasters for a calendar year is 16 events set in 2011. Cost estimates associated with the 2017 hurricanes will be available in January 2018.
The September nationally averaged temperature was 66.3°F, 1.4°F above the 20th century average, and ranked among the warmest third of the historical record. Near-record warmth was observed in parts of the Great Lakes and Northeast. The year-to-date U.S. average temperature was the third warmest on record at 57.7°F, 2.7°F above average. Only January–September of 2012 and 2016 were warmer. Above-average temperatures spanned the nation for the first nine months of the year.
For September, the national precipitation total was 2.22 inches, 0.27 inch below average, and ranked among the driest third of the historical record. Much-below-average precipitation fell in the Lower and Mid-Mississippi Valley and the central Great Lakes with above-average precipitation for the Rockies, Northern Plains, and Southeast. The year-to-date U.S. precipitation total was 26.36, 3.16 inches above average. This was the wettest January–September on record, surpassing the previous record set in 1979.
See all September and year-to-date U.S. temperature and precipitation maps.
This monthly summary from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information is part of the suite of climate information services NOAA provides to government, business, academia, and the public to support informed decision-making.
The temperature pattern across the contiguous U.S. shifted dramatically in mid-September. Early in the month, record and near-record warmth spanned the West with below-average conditions across the East. For the last two weeks of September, record or near-record warmth was observed in the East with below-average temperatures in the West. This pattern caused many states to have near- to above-average temperatures for September with much-above-average temperatures in the central Great Lakes and Northeast. During September, the Alaska statewide average temperature was 42.8°F, 2.2°F above average. North-central and southeastern Alaska were much warmer than average. The temperature in McGrath did not drop below the freezing mark until September 29, the latest such occurrence on record. The previous record was September 25, set just last year.
Below-average precipitation was observed for the mid- and lower-Mississippi Valley stretching into the Great Lakes and Northeast where five states were much drier than average. After having its second wettest August, Louisiana tied its driest September on record. The Louisiana statewide average precipitation total was 0.87 inch, 3.25 inches below average, tying 1953 as the driest on record. Above-average precipitation was observed for a large area extending from the Great Basin, through the Rocky Mountains and into the Northern Plains. Parts of the Southeast were also wetter than average. Wyoming was the only much wetter than average state. Many mountain locations in the West received their first snow of the season. According to the October 3 U.S. Drought Monitor report, 14.4 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, up nearly 2.6 percent compared to the end of August. Drought improved across parts of the Northern to Central Plains. Drought conditions expanded and intensified in parts of the Northwest, Midwest, and Southern Plains. Outside of the contiguous U.S., drought conditions were alleviated in southern Alaska and southern Puerto Rico but expanded in parts of Hawaii.
September was an extremely active hurricane month for the North Atlantic Basin with five hurricanes – four of which were major hurricanes. One measure of tropical cyclone activity – the Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) index, which takes into account the combined strength and duration of tropical cyclones – was record high in the North Atlantic during September. Hurricane Irma devastated parts of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Florida. Then Hurricane Maria delivered a second punch, causing unprecedented impacts on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Every state across the contiguous U.S. had an above-average temperature for the first nine months of the year. Forty-one states, stretching from coast to coast, had much-above-average temperatures for January-September. Three states in the Southeast – Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina – were record warm.
Most locations had wetter than average conditions during January-September. Much-above-average precipitation was observed across the West, and parts of the Southern Plains, central Gulf Coast, and Great Lakes. Eleven states were much wetter than average, while no state was record wet. Conversely, below-average precipitation was observed across the Northern Rockies and Northern Plains. No state was record dry.
The U.S. Climate Extremes Index (USCEI) for the year-to-date was the third highest value on record at over one and a half times the average. On the national scale, extremes in warm maximum and minimum temperatures, one-day precipitation totals and landfalling tropical cyclones contributed to the elevated USCEI. The USCEI is an index that tracks extremes (falling in the upper or lower 10 percent of the record) in temperature, precipitation, drought and landfalling tropical cyclones across the contiguous U.S.
From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):
The agricultural overpumping from thousands of wells continues despite decades of warnings from researchers that the aquifer — also known as the Ogallala, the world’s largest underground body of fresh water — is shrinking.
Even if farmers radically reduced pumping, the latest research finds, the aquifer wouldn’t refill for centuries. Farmers say they cannot handle this on their own.
But there is no agreement among the eight affected states (Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, South Dakota) to try to save the aquifer. And state rules allow total depletion.
In fact, Colorado officials faced with legal challenges from Kansas over dwindling surface water in the Republican River have found that their best option to comply with a 1942 compact is to take more water out of the aquifer. The state bought wells from farmers during the past decade and has been pumping out 11,500 acre-feet of water a year, enough to satisfy a small city, delivering it through a $60 million, 12-mile pipeline northeast of Wray to artificially resuscitate the river.
The overpumping reflects a pattern, seen worldwide, where people with knowledge that they’re exceeding nature’s limits nevertheless cling to destructive practices that hasten an environmental backlash.
The depletion of the High Plains Aquifer has been happening for decades, according to bulletins U.S. Geological Survey has put out since 1988. Colorado farmers this year pumped groundwater out of 4,000 wells, state records show, siphoning as much as 500 gallons a minute from each well to irrigate roughly 580,000 acres — mostly to grow corn, a water-intensive crop.
The depth where groundwater can be tapped has fallen by as much as 100 feet in eastern Colorado, USGS data show. That means pump motors must work harder to pull up the same amount of water, using more energy — raising costs for farmers. The amount of water siphoned from the aquifer since 1950 to irrigate farm fields across the eight states tops 273 million acre-feet (89 trillion gallons) — about 70 percent of the water in Lake Erie.
On one hand, the industrial center-pivot irrigation techniques perfected after World War II have brought consistency to farming by tapping the “sponge” of saturated sediment that links the aquifer to surface water in streams and rivers. America’s breadbasket produces $35 billion of crops a year. On the other hand, intense irrigation is breaking ecosystems apart.
Overpumping has dried up 358 miles of surface rivers and streams across a 200-square-mile area covering eastern Colorado, western Kansas and Nebraska, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife-backed researchers from Colorado State University and Kansas State University who published a peer-reviewed report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers also determined that, if farmers keep pumping water at the current pace, another 177 miles of rivers and streams will be lost before 2060…
Disappearing fish species — minnows, suckers, catfish that had evolved to endure periodic droughts — signal to biologists that ecological effects may be reaching a tipping point.
The amount of water held in the aquifer under eastern Colorado decreased by 19.6 million acre-feet — 6.4 trillion gallons — from 1950 until 2015, USGS records show. That’s an average loss of 300,000 acre-feet a year. Between 2011 and 2015, records show, the water available under Colorado in the aquifer decreased by 3.2 million acre-feet — an annual average shrinkage of 800,000 acre-feet. Climate change factors, including rainfall, play into the rate of the drawdown…
They say they’re trying. They’ve reduced the land irrigated in eastern Colorado by 30,000 acres since 2006. They plan to retire another 25,000 acres over the next decade, said Rod Lenz, president of the Republican River Water Conservation District, who for years has advocated use of technology to grow more crops with less water…
Farmer and cattleman Robert Boyd, a leader of the Arikaree Groundwater Management District, said the federal government should intervene to ensure survival of High Plains agriculture…
He pointed to proposals to divert water from the Missouri River Basin and move it westward through pipelines across the Great Plains…
But drawing down the aquifer does not violate any law in Colorado. The state engineer’s office monitors well levels and requires permits for wells, limiting the number of acres a farmer can irrigate. But there’s no hard limit on how much water can be pumped…
[Mike] Sullivan and state engineer Kevin Rein emphasized that thousands of acres no longer are irrigated. “And there need to be some more retirements of land to get us into a more balanced situation,” Sullivan said.
They defended Colorado’s practice of pumping more groundwater out of the aquifer, saying this is necessary to comply with the Republican River Compact. Disputes over river flows have risen as far as the U.S. Supreme Court and Colorado’s legal obligations to deliver water to Nebraska and Kansas are clear.
From the Iowa Flood Center at the University of Iowa:
Stream Stage Sensors
The sensors were developed as a student project to design an affordable, yet effective way to measure stream and river heights. The sensors are solar powered and attached to the side of bridges. A sonar signal is used to measure the distance from the water surface to the sensor and data is transmitted via a cell modem to IFIS where the data is publicly available.
From The Fort Collins Coloradoan (Kevin Duggan):
As Thursday morning’s fog and autumn chill gave way to sunlight and intensely blue skies, Dan Ceynar of the Iowa Flood Center toiled to install a sensor on a pedestrian bridge over the Poudre River near Bellvue.
The sensor is different than conventional gauges along the river that rely on hydraulics to measure the height and flow of the water. This self-contained device uses a sound pulse to measure the distance between the water surface and the bridge.
“It’s basically an ultrasonic range finder,” he said. “We have it pointed at the water level, so what gets reported back is the elevation of the water above sea level. It’s an automated stage gauge.”
Measurements are taken every 15 minutes, day and night. The sensor is powered by a battery charged by a solar panel. It transmits signals using a cellular connection.
Ceynar is a project engineer with the Iowa Flood Center, or IFC, based at the University of Iowa…
About 250 ultrasonic sensors have been installed in Iowa, which Ceynar described as river-rich and flood-prone. The Bellvue monitor is the second to be placed outside the state…
Riverside has modeled maps along that stretch of the river that show where water would go in a flood event, said Sean McFeely, product manager for the company.
Data from the sensor will be used to refine the inundation maps. Coordinating data from the sensor with inundation mapping could have far-reaching ramifications, McFeely said. Project partners included Colorado State University and the University of Kansas.
At roughly $5,000 a piece, the ultrasonic sensor is significantly less expensive to build and maintain than hydraulic gauges, which require time-consuming calibrations to ensure their accuracy.