#Snowpack Near Record Lows Spells Trouble for Western Water Supplies — Inside Climate News #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 15, 2018 via the NRCS.

From Inside Climate News (Bob Berwyn):

Scientists say snow seasons like the U.S. West is experiencing now will become more common as global temperatures rise, and economic costs will go up, as well.

Months of exceptionally warm weather and an early winter snow drought across big swaths of the West have left the snowpack at record-low levels in parts of the Central and Southern Rockies, raising concerns about water shortages and economic damage.

Drought spread across large parts of the Western United States this month, and storms that moved across the region in early January made up only a small part of the deficit. Runoff from melting snow is now projected to be less than 50 percent of average in key river basins in the central and southern Rockies.

Most of the region’s annual water cycle starts as thick layers of mountain snow that accumulate during winter and melt slowly in spring. If the snows don’t come, there’s no water to fill the reservoirs.

A series of recent studies examines how vulnerable that snowpack is to rising temperatures, and how the economic costs from the declining snowpack could soar into the hundreds of billions of dollars.

From the Associated Press via Steamboat Today:

Aspen Skiing Co. said snowfall has improved recently, with up to 17 inches falling in the past week. Storms last week allowed Aspen to open more terrain.

Colorado Ski Country USA noted the state’s historically snowiest months are still ahead.

Snowpack in the Colorado mountains ranged from 34 percent to 84 percent of the long-term average on Sunday, with the southwestern corner of the state hardest hit.

Drought conditions have spread across virtually all of Colorado, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a federal agency that tracks conditions nationwide.

West Drought Monitor January 9, 2018.

From The Rio Blanco Herald-Times (Jennifer Hill):

The first two weeks of 2018 have seen a continuation of dry weather as the local region plunges further into drought-like conditions.

According to the National Integrated Drought Information System, the western half of Rio Blanco County is currently experiencing Moderate Drought conditions with less than 30 percent of normal precipitation. The Eastern side of the county is considered Abnormally Dry.

The Colorado Snow Survey lists Rio Blanco County at 66 percent of normal snow pack.

The dry weather has put pressure on area ranchers as they are forced to continue hauling water to livestock that would normally lick snow. Jon Hill, owner of the Cripple Cowboy Cow Outfit, expressed concerns about the health impact of the extra dust in the air on the livestock. He’s also worried about the long term ability of area wells and springs and what the spring and summer grasses will be like without enough running water. But it’s not just his ranch that Hill is concerned about. “The bigger issue isn’t just one ranch,” he said. “This could impact the Colorado River Compact.”


Gary Moyer, vice president of the White River Conservation District, is hopeful that some much needed moisture will soon arrive and alleviate concerns about a lack of moisture in the soil. “We are all holding our breath,” he said. “It could change rapidly in the coming months.”

According to the Climate Prediction Center organized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, the next three months are likely to bring the possibility of near normal precipitation to the county coupled with above normal temperatures. Jim Pringle with Grand Junction NOAA Office said the weather is currently tracking normal for a La Nina pattern which typically brings the storm track to the northern states and drier weather to the south. An El Nino year tracks the opposite with precipitation to the south and dry weather in the north.

The dry start to winter is not unheard of. One hundred years ago the Meeker Herald reported very similar conditions of little to no snow and concerns that there wouldn’t be any ice to cut. However, the mostly anecdotal historical record may provide some hope. If the weather cycle continues to follow the pattern of 1918, we’ll have snow by the end of the month.

From The Denver Business Journal (Ben Miller):

The 2017-2018 ski season isn’t starting very well for Vail Resorts Inc.

The Broomfield ski resort operator (NYSE: MTN) said total skier visits to its North American ski resorts were down nearly 11 percent compared with a year earlier.

That’s not all that’s down this season: Vail said ski school revenue was down 4.5 percent, dining revenue was down 8.7 percent, and retail/rental revenue was down 11.5 percent compared with last season.

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