#Snowpack/Drought news:

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

From The Vail Daily (Scott Miller):

The latest readings from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s snow measurement sites at Vail Mountain, Copper Mountain and Fremont Pass show a mixed bag of “snow water equivalent.”

While Vail Mountain continues to have adequate snow for skiing and snowboarding, the measurement site continues to give below-average readings.

On Monday, March 5, the Vail Mountain site showed only 9.8 inches of snow water equivalent, below even the 12.5 inches recorded in the historic drought year of 2011-12. In that drought year, the snowpack at Vail Mountain peaked on Feb. 28 and then fell quickly. The Vail Mountain measurement site was melted off by April 8.

There’s better news from Copper Mountain — near the headwaters of Gore Creek — and Fremont Pass, near the Eagle River’s headwaters.

At Copper Mountain, the snow water equivalent is 79 percent of normal. The Fremont Pass site is right at the 30-year average…


We’re all hoping for more snow in the next several weeks, and it’s hard to tell just what those weeks will bring. Still, the outlook isn’t particularly promising.

Andrew Lyons, a meteorologist in the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, said the winter-long dry pattern seems to be holding.

An area of high pressure around the Southwestern United States and over the Pacific Ocean has been pushing storm systems to the north of Colorado all winter. That pressure ridge hasn’t moved much.

Lyons noted that we’re in the second year of a “La Nina” pattern — which develops due to cooler-than-average temperatures in the central Pacific. Those systems tend to bring more snow to Colorado resorts north of Interstate 70. Historically, though, the second year of La Nina patterns tend to be more dry than the first year.

Lyons said the current pattern has about run its course, which means the long-term outlook is uncertain.

The 90-day outlook from the U.S. Climate Prediction Center isn’t encouraging.

That forecast calls for a better-than-average chance of higher-than-normal temperatures and lower-than-normal precipitation.

Still, it’s springtime in Colorado. Just about anything can happen.

West Drought Monitor February 27, 2018.

From 9News.com (Core Reppenhagen):

Drought, low snowpack, and high fire danger.

These are three different ways to describe how dry it is in Colorado right now. Those three categories are closely related … but not the same.

Think of it like this: Drought shows a deficit of moisture in the ground and soils. Fire danger shows a deficit of moisture in the fuels, which is in the trees, the branches, and on the ground.

Snowpack, at least this year, shows a deficit of moisture in the bank.

Together, these three categories show a more detailed picture of just how dry Colorado really is this year.

Seventy one percent of Colorado is in drought conditions as of March 5. That’s the largest drought our state has seen since September 2013, just before the historic floods.

This drought data gets updated once a week, by the National Drought Mitigation Center. It’s not a computer model. It’s put together by a person who weighs precipitation data, field measurements and satellite scans to subjectively report current drought conditions.

Thirteen different authors take turns putting together the reports. These authors range from drought experts, climatologists, hydrologists, meteorologists and agriculture experts.

The product they put out is called the U.S. Drought Monitor, and it’s meant for use in agriculture, by water managers, by governments that might need to implement water restrictions, and for every citizen to get a general understanding for available water.

The author of this week;s report, Deborah Bathke, told 9NEWS that drought is not a direct representation of fire danger, although it is closely related. Both products are driven primarily by lack of precipitation.

Fire danger shows both current and future conditions. Many areas along the Front Range of Colorado are listed in high or very high fire danger right now. That is due to the low moisture content in ground fuels like grasses, and shrubs, and even larger fuels like large tree branches, and limbs.

The Fire Danger Outlook is a forecast. The latest data shows a higher likelihood of above average wildland fire activity for southern Colorado through May, but average fire activity for the rest of Colorado…

Snowpack in our state is at record low levels at 9 Snotel observation sites, and is at 2nd lowest at seven other locations. Overall, Colorado is 30 percent below our average snowpack levels for March 5.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 5, 2018 via the NRCS.

From the Associated Press (Susan Montoya Bryan) via The Cortez Journal:

Experts with the National Weather Service talked of snowpack levels in the mountain ranges that feed the state’s rivers ahead of the release Thursday of the latest drought map.

The map showed all but a sliver of southern New Mexico is grappling with dryness, with extreme drought increasing in the northwest corner of the state.

The absence of moisture elsewhere in the West also has become more common since the start of the year. Every square mile of Arizona, Utah and Nevada are mired in drought. Significant portions of Texas and Colorado have also fallen behind in snow and rainfall.

Royce Fontenot, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque, said it would take more than the recent moisture to recoup the long-term effects of drought.

“Drought is like malnutrition. One meal is not going to catch you up,” he said.

The lack of moisture is beginning to be felt by agricultural communities in New Mexico.

The Spradleys have a contingency plan for drought. Just a trace of rain fell last summer, forcing them to sell their calves early along with heifers that would have been ready to have calves this year.

Now with the dry winter and unfavorable forecast, they made the decision to sell more. It will take years to rebuild the herd.

In the Mesilla Valley, farmer Jay Hill quickly sold his 2017 alfalfa reserves, and livestock are owners looking for more.

Most alfalfa grown in New Mexico is used by the dairy industry, and Hill said farmers and dairies will need to find middle ground on pricing.

Farmer also face pressure as irrigation sources are expected to be limited later this year.

“We’re not even in hay season yet and we’ve already got one strike against us because we’re having to use water just to keep the crop alive during the dry winter,” Hill said.

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