#Drought news: Recent storm drops heavy snowfall in the San Juan mountains

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


During the past week, large precipitation events affected the Pacific Northwest, Southwest, southern Plains, Midwest, Ohio Valley, Tennessee River Valley, and mid-Atlantic, alleviating drought conditions or preventing further degradations in these areas. An active storm track in the coming week is expected to bring additional precipitation in the central and southern United States, which may result in further drought reductions. Conditions degraded in some areas of the Desert Southwest and Intermountain West that missed out on the heavier precipitation, most notably the Sierra Nevada and the Four Corners…

High Plains

Several areas of precipitation fell in Wyoming (ranging from .25 inch to localized 2+ inches); the heaviest precipitation areas were in the Yellowstone/Teton high country and in the Snowy Range. No changes were made in Wyoming, as the snow in the Snowy Range prevented further degradation there. Precipitation between .50 inch and 1 inch took place in the Dakotas, so no changes were made here, except for an expansion of abnormal dryness along the US 14 corridor in east-central South Dakota where seasonal precipitation deficits persisted. Rains from the aforementioned Midwest storm systems clipped southeast and parts of south-central Kansas with .25 inch to 1.5 inches of precipitation. A small area of .25-.50 inch of precipitation also fell in northwest Kansas. Moderate drought expanded into northeast Kansas because of persistent short- to medium-term seasonal precipitation deficits and abnormally warm temperatures in the last month…


A storm system moving through the southwest United States led to moderate or heavy precipitation in parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado, with the heaviest Colorado precipitation taking place in the San Juan Mountains. Abnormally dry conditions in south-central New Mexico improved. However, the heavier precipitation missed the Four Corners region, worsening the long-term precipitation deficits. Most of California and Nevada also remained dry this week. Above-normal temperatures over the last few months, combined with precipitation deficits over most of the Southwest, led to the continuation of drought in much of the Southwest region. Moderate drought expanded through parts of the Sierra Nevada, where very low snowfall, short- and seasonal-range precipitation deficits, and warm temperatures so far this winter continued. Some ski areas have even closed because of the lack of snowfall. Abnormally dry conditions expanded through the rest of the Central Valley in California, where precipitation deficits over the water year and streamflow continued to degrade. Moderate drought expanded over south-central Oregon, where short-term and water year precipitation deficits intensified…

Looking Ahead

An active stormy pattern looks to continue in the central and eastern United States as we progress into next week. As a front continues to settle over the central, south-central, and eastern United States, expect moderate to heavy precipitation to continue in these areas late this week. A new storm system this weekend may deliver some rain and snow to parts of the central Plains, Midwest, Great Lakes, and mid-South. Mainly dry conditions are forecasted to persist in Florida, the Carolinas, and most of the low elevation areas of Nevada and California. Some precipitation approaching an inch is possible in the Sierra Nevada. Generally, temperatures in the western United States should fall below normal, while temperatures in the eastern United States will likely be warmer than normal. More variable temperatures are anticipated in the central United States.

From The Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):

…Moderate to Severe Drought continues across Southern Colorado…

Weather conditions through-out January of 2018 played a similar tune to the last few months of 2017; namely warm and dry across most of South Central and Southeast Colorado. A few weather systems brought some precipitation to the area, favoring northern portions of the state, with well below normal precipitation experienced across southern portions of Colorado for the month as a whole. A pattern change through early February has brought some much needed precipitation to portions of Southern Colorado, however, precipitation totals remain well below normal for the 2018 Water Year, thus far.

With that said, the latest US Drought Monitor, issued Thursday February 15th, 2018 continues to indicate severe drought (D2) conditions across Mineral, Rio Grande, Conejos, Alamosa, and Costilla Counties. Severe (D2) drought conditions are also depicted across the southern 2/3rds of Saguache County, southwestern portions of Custer County, western Huerfano County, western and southeastern portions of Las Animas County, most of Baca County and southeastern portions of Prowers County.

Moderate drought (D1) conditions are indicated across most of the rest of south central and southeast Colorado including the rest of Saugache, Custer, Huerfano, Las Animas, Baca and Prowers Counties.

Moderate (D1) drought conditions are also depicted across western portions of Chaffee County and eastern portions of Fremont County, as well as all of Teller, El Paso, Pueblo, Crowley, Otero, Kiowa, and Bent Counties.

Abnormally Dry (D0) conditions are depicted across western portions of Fremont County and eastern portions of Chaffee County, as well as Lake County.



Warm and dry conditions across the region over the past several months, combined with abundant cured fuels, has allowed for moderate to high fire danger to develop and persist across much of South

Central and Southeast Colorado. A pattern change in early February brought some snow cover and a brief respite to the high fire danger across southeastern Colorado into the middle of the month. However, warm and windy weather will allow for a return of dry fuels and high fire danger to the area.


The very warm and dry late Fall and early Winter has helped to dry out soil moisture across south central and southeast Colorado. This in turn, has damaged winter wheat crops across southern Colorado.


The February 1st statewide snowpack came in at only 59 percent of median, and is only 39 percent of the available snowpack at this same time last year. There continues to a strong gradient in snowpack conditions, which deteriorates from north to south across the state. Some beneficial snow has fallen across the Southern Mountains into mid-February; however, snowpack remains well below average with 2/3rds of mountain snow accumulation season already passed.

In the Arkansas Basin, February 1st snowpack came in at 55 percent of median, and is only 35 percent of the available snowpack at this same time last year. As with the state as a whole, there remain big differences in the distribution of said snowpack, with the northern portions of the Arkansas Basin coming in at 75 percent of normal, while the southern portions of the basin are running between 20 and 25 percent of normal.

In the Rio Grande Basin, February 1st snowpack came in at only 31 percent of median, and is only 21 percent of last year’s snowpack at this same time.

Water storage across the state at the end of January remained at 115 percent of average overall, as compared to 106 percent of average storage available at this same time last year.

In the Arkansas Basin, end of January storage was at 140 percent of average overall, as compared to 99 percent of average storage available at this same time last year. Reservoir storage in the Arkansas Basin remains the highest in the state.

In the Rio Grande Basin, end of January storage remained at 123 percent of average overall, as compared to 89 percent of average storage available at this same time last year.

With 2/3rd of the normal accumulating season in the books, current streamflow forecasts for the Spring and Summer are projected to be below average statewide. Near average to below average flows area projected across northern portions of the state, with below to well below average flows across the southern half of the state.

“Everyone starts to get nervous when there’s no snow in #Colorado” –Joe Busto #CloudSeeding

From The Huffington Post (Sophie Quinton):

Last month, a study funded by the National Science Foundation proved for the first time that the technology works in nature. That study, combined with other recent research, has helped make cloud seeding an attractive option for officials and companies desperate to increase the amount of water in rivers and reservoirs.

In Colorado alone, more than a hundred cloud seeding machines are set up in mountainside backyards, fields and meadows. Some older versions of the contraptions look like a large tin can perched on top of a propane tank. New ones are large metal boxes festooned with solar panels, weather sensors and a slim tower.

Their goal is the same: to “seed” clouds with particles of silver iodide, a compound that freezing water vapor easily attaches to. That makes ice crystals, which eventually become snowflakes.

Colorado’s $1 million a year program has been around since the 1970s and is paid for not just by the state, ski resorts, and local water users but also water districts as far away as Los Angeles that want to increase snowmelt into the Colorado River, which sustains over 30 million people across the Southwest. Currently, most of the river basin is experiencing a drought.

“Everyone starts to get nervous when there’s no snow in Colorado,” said Joe Busto, the scientist who oversees Colorado’s cloud seeding program.

Major urban water districts in Arizona, California and Nevada have funded cloud seeding in the Rocky Mountains for over 10 years and are now close to signing an agreement with officials in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming to split the cost of nine more years of seeding.

Cloud seeding is a relatively cheap tool for bulking up the water supply in Lake Mead and other reservoirs, said Mohammed Mahmoud, a senior policy analyst for the Central Arizona Water Conservation District. The up to $500,000 annual commitment the district is making to the regional agreement comprises a tiny fraction of its budget, he said.

Yet it’s hard to tell how much additional precipitation cloud seeding creates or how much additional snow or rain eventually makes it into city water pipes. Cloud seeding only works when there are freezing, moist clouds in the air. And the technology can be controversial…

A 20th Century Technology

Scientists discovered in the 1940s that certain molecules make a good foundation for snow. In one famous experiment, a chemist made it snow by dumping six pounds of dry ice out of an airplane over western Massachusetts.

It didn’t take long for states, localities and ski resorts to start experimenting. Colorado’s Vail ski area began cloud seeding in the 1970s, for instance. Today California, Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming have winter cloud seeding programs, and Texas and North Dakota have summer programs, which aim to increase rain and decrease hail.

Cloud seeding machines are nothing like the “snow guns” used to blast water over ski slopes. Instead, when they’re turned on they generate smoke that floats into the air like incense. Some state programs rely on ground-based machines. Others use airplanes to drop flares that generate silver iodide smoke into clouds, or to fly into a storm with flares strapped to their wings.

The January National Science Foundation-funded study, which was conducted in Idaho, was the first to show real-world observations of silver iodide forming ice crystals inside clouds and falling out as precipitation.

Such research has increased interest in cloud seeding, particularly among private companies and utilities, said Neil Brackin, president of Weather Modification Inc., a North Dakota company that does cloud seeding. “We’re able to now really demonstrate the technology, and they can see it’s not something conceptual that works in a lab — it’s measurable.”

Other recent studies have used computer modeling to estimate the increase in snowfall from cloud seeding. A 2014 study across two Wyoming mountain ranges found that cloud seeding could increase snowfall by 5 to 15 percent — but only when the right conditions for seeding were met, or during 30 percent of snow events…

Nevada’s cloud seeding program can increase the snowpack by up to 10 percent, [Frank] McDonough said.

That translates into 80,000 more acre-feet a year of water, enough to sustain about 150,000 households.

Still, he said, cloud seeding programs are difficult to evaluate. “Ten percent of additional snowfall is within the natural variation of storms.”

Although it’s hard for scientists to gauge the effectiveness of cloud seeding, many water districts are willing to take a chance on the technology because cloud seeding is relatively cheap.

Idaho Power, which serves customers in Idaho and Oregon, has been using cloud seeding to boost the volume of water moving through its hydroelectric dams since 2003. The company’s representatives say the $3 million seeding program they oversee — which is partly funded by the state and other water users — generates billions of gallons of additional water for much less than 1 percent of the company’s operational budget.

“When you do the math, it turns out to be about $3.50 per acre-foot,” said Shaun Parkinson, water resources leader at Idaho Power. Renting water through a water supply bank — another way for irrigators to access more water — costs $17-21 an acre-foot, he said.

As the technology advances, cloud seeding could get even better results. In Colorado, Busto is adding more remote-controlled generators that can be driven high on a mountain, closer to clouds, and left there all winter. Currently, most cloud seeding machines in the state are installed on private property and manually operated by homeowners and farmers who are paid to turn them on when a storm comes.

Still, Busto warns that cloud seeding isn’t a cure for drought. Take this winter, which has been too warm and too dry for seeding. “We have not been able to run our cloud seeding machines because there’s been no storms coming through,” he said; the machines have only run a handful of times so far.

Challenges Remain

State lawmakers can be reluctant to spend money on cloud seeding technology, particularly during tight budget years.

Wyoming’s Legislature, for instance, put about $120,000 to $160,000 into the state’s cloud seeding program each year since it started in 2005. But now the state is running a deficit, and lawmakers want to cut next year’s funding to $80,000.

At a recent meeting at the Wyoming Water Development Office in Cheyenne, state engineer Patrick Tyrrell told cloud seeding company representatives and state and local officials from around the region that his team hasn’t yet found local funders, such as ski resorts, to step in to help pay for the program.

Kansas’ cloud seeding program has dwindled almost to nothing since the 1970s because of budget cuts. Nevada’s Legislature eliminated funding for cloud seeding during the 2008 budget shortfall, McDonough said. Lawmakers voted last year to resume funding.

Cloud seeding can also face public opposition. State officials who manage the programs are used to explaining the science to lawmakers, their governing boards, reporters and concerned citizens.

“Most people don’t understand the science very well, and they don’t understand who’s doing what and where,” Busto said. It’s easy to find websites and online videos dedicated to conspiracy theories, such as that cloud seeding caused last year’s hurricane and flooding in Houston, or that cloud seeding is part of a government plot that will inevitably poison all life on Earth.

Photo credit H2O Radio via the Colorado Independent.

Busto said he has been confronted by people who are worried that exposure to silver iodide will make them sick. But silver is a naturally occurring element that is not inherently harmful, he said. In the 2014 Wyoming study, scientists found that seeding added some silver iodide to the surrounding water and soil but far too little to pose a known threat to human health.

North Dakota’s Kouba is one of the skeptics. He has compiled state rainfall data going back to the 1970s and concluded that cloud seeding has decreased rainfall, particularly in counties that are downwind of seeding operations. “I’m in a downwind county, and we have lost considerably,” he said.

Last summer, when a drought seized western North Dakota, Kouba circulated a petition asking the Hettinger County Commission to file an injunction against a nearby county to stop cloud seeding there. He managed to get about half the county to sign on, he said. Recently, he presented his rainfall data to the state water commission.

North Dakota officials say there’s no evidence that cloud seeding caused last year’s drought. If anything, cloud seeding in one place leads to more precipitation downwind, not less, said Darin Langerud, who oversees cloud seeding for the North Dakota Atmospheric Resource Board.

Fountain Creek: CSU-Pueblo scores additional $32,000 for water quality study

The Fountain Creek Watershed is located along the central front range of Colorado. It is a 927-square mile watershed that drains south into the Arkansas River at Pueblo. The watershed is bordered by the Palmer Divide to the north, Pikes Peak to the west, and a minor divide 20 miles east of Colorado Springs. Map via the Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District.

From KRDO.com (Katie Spencer):

But now, with an additional $32,000 in research funding from the county, researchers are hoping to find out exactly what lurks below the water’s surface.

CSU-Pueblo staff and students have been collecting water samples, and they say there are large amounts of mercury and selenium in the water.

“Mercury can be a problem. It has a whole syndrome, a whole set of symptoms if you see mercury levels getting too high,” [Scott] Herrmann said.

County Commissioner Terry Hart said he just wants the Pueblo community to be able to enjoy the creek, as the people of Colorado Springs do.

“Citizens are invited down to play in and around the creek and it’s a beautiful thing. We can’t do that in Pueblo County and we have not been able to do it because of our pollution concerns,” Hart said.

He also wants to make sure the Pueblo commissioners and the city of Colorado Springs are keeping up their promises to clean up the creek.

The researchers are also looking at the fish in Fountain Creek to determine what issues they are facing and if contaminants are being passed on to people who catch and eat them.

Taking the temperature of streamflow forecasts: #Climate information improves forecast accuracy in the U.S. Southwest

From AtmosNews (UCAR/NCAR):

Adding temperature predictions into seasonal streamflow forecasts in the U.S. Southwest could increase the accuracy of those forecasts, according to a new study that analyzed historical conditions in the headwaters of the Colorado and Rio Grande rivers.

Many rivers in the western United States are fed by melting snow in the spring and summer. Regional water managers depend on seasonal water supply forecasts that estimate the amount of runoff the snowpack will yield to determine how much water to allocate to farmers and ranchers, city residents, and other users.

These forecasts, which are based on snowpack measurements taken in the winter and spring, tend to assume that the climate is stable and that the relationship between the amount of snowpack and the amount of runoff is also stable.

But a recent study by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Bureau of Reclamation found that warmer temperatures reduce the amount of meltwater that actually makes it into a stream, a finding that highlights the importance of accounting for changing climate conditions when forecasting streamflow.

Building on this work, scientists at NCAR tested whether incorporating seasonal temperature predictions into statistical streamflow forecasting models could improve their accuracy. The temperature predictions reflect the recent warming trend as well as whether the months after the forecast date are likely to be warmer or colder than this trend. Results of the new study were published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

“Adding temperature predictions into streamflow forecasts will not only improve the information that water managers have today, but it also has the potential to mitigate some of the loss of predictability that we now expect in the future, as the climate continues to warm,” said NCAR scientist Flavio Lehner, who co-led the study with NCAR scientist Andy Wood.

The research contributes to an NCAR effort, in collaboration with several federal agencies, to build better tools and models for analysis and prediction of water resources. The new study was funded by the NOAA, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Other study co-authors include Angus Goodbody from the National Water and Climate Center, which issues streamflow forecasts for the western United States; Florian Pappenberger from the forecast department of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts; and Douglas Blatchford and Dagmar Llewellyn, both from the Bureau of Reclamation.

To test whether the addition of seasonal temperature predictions could improve streamflow forecasts, the scientists created “hindcasts” for the headwaters of the Colorado and Rio Grande Rivers (both located in Colorado) for the three decades between 1987 and 2016.

The team used historical observations of snowpack, precipitation, and streamflow to issue and evaluate a series of forecasts — on Jan. 1, Feb. 1, March 1, April 1, and May 1 — for each year. These hindcasts emulate the current method of issuing streamflow forecasts, including the calendar dates when those forecasts are issued.

The scientists also issued a second set of hindcasts, this time with the addition of seasonal temperature predictions for the region. The seasonal predictions were drawn from the North American Multi-Model Ensemble and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, which together comprise eight state-of-the-art models used for seasonal climate forecasts.

The team found that incorporating temperature predictions improved the accuracy of seasonal streamflow forecasts at the majority of river gauges across the headwaters of both basins. The amount of improvement varied between about 1 percent and 10 percent, averaged across the basins.

“We think that model-based temperature predictions could be used to improve water supply forecasts in other watersheds that rely on runoff from snowpack — across the western United States and in other parts of the world,” Lehner said “But the degree of improvement will certainly depend on the individual area.”

To make it as easy as possible for existing operational forecasting centers to begin incorporating the research findings, the scientists chose to modify existing forecasting techniques to include temperature predictions instead of inventing an entirely new forecasting method.

“It’s a well-known challenge to transition methods from a research experiment to an operational setting,” Wood said. “Here we chose a baseline of a current operational water supply forecast technique so that the approach is an extension to the existing practice, and more likely to be supportable.”

Fostering these kinds of applications is the overarching goal of the Postdocs Applying Climate Expertise program that supports Lehner’s research. PACE is run by the Cooperative Programs for the Advancement of Earth System Science, a community program of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research.

“This project has enabled stakeholders and scientists to work together directly to tackle a concrete water-related problem arising from the variability and trends we’ve observed in our regional climate,” said Llewellyn, a scientist at the Bureau of Reclamation and study co-author.

Title: “Mitigating the impacts of climate non-stationarity on seasonal streamflow predictability in the U.S. Southwest”

Authors: Flavio Lehner, Andrew W. Wood, Dagmar Llewellyn, Douglas B. Blatchford, Angus G. Goodbody, Florian Pappenberger

Journal: Geophysical Research Letters, DOI: 10.1002/2017GL076043

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

The images above use daily precipitation statistics from NWS COOP, CoCoRaHS, and CoAgMet stations. From top to bottom, and left to right: most recent 7-days of accumulated precipitation in inches; current month-to-date accumulated precipitation in inches; last month’s precipitation as a percent of average; water-year-to-date precipitation as a percent of average. Graphic credit: 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.

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