#Snowpack/#Drought/#Runoff news:

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

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Zach Hillstrom):

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a federal agency that tracks precipitation levels and drought conditions across the country, the entirety of Southern Colorado is currently seeing conditions ranging from abnormally dry to extreme drought.

“The fall was very dry and winter itself has been really dry,” said Mark Wankowski, meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Pueblo office.

“Pueblo proper has seen at least some precipitation. In February we were above normal, and in January I believe we were very close to normal, … but the southeast plains and especially the southwestern corner of Colorado have been extremely dry over the last three to six months.”

The Drought Monitor report notes that severe drought conditions have expanded across the southeastern part of the state to include all of Kiowa, Bent, Prowers, Mineral, Rio Grande, Alamosa, Costilla and Baca Counties, while also encompassing most of Huerfano, Las Animas, Crowley, Saguache and Otero counties and the southern half of Custer County.

Moderate drought conditions have been seen across the majority of South Central and Southeastern Colorado, including Pueblo County, as well as the western portions of Chaffee County and eastern portions of Fremont, Teller and El Paso counties…

The current lack of precipitation is expected to continue for several weeks: Wankowski said the forecast currently shows above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation continuing into June.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 12, 2018 via the NRCS.

From The Kiowa County Press (Bill Vogrin):

Despite a dry winter and below-average snowpack, water levels remain high in lakes along the Arkansas River managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, causing the closing of some roads, fishing and picnic areas and even a boat ramp.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation attributes the bounty of water at Lake Pueblo State Park and John Martin Reservoir State Park to above-average runoff the previous four years in the Arkansas River Basin.
In addition, cities that own storage in the lakes filled their accounts in preparation for future drought conditions, pushing lake levels unusually high. Then a wet spring and summer on the eastern plains in 2017 caused agricultural water users to leave water in storage, further compounding the high-water situation.

From the Associated Press via The Cortez Journal:

The Denver Post reported Wednesday that the state’s snowpack improved 13 percent in February but still was only 72 percent of normal as of March 1.

Federal snow survey supervisor for Colorado, Brian Domonkos, says more than 200 percent of normal snowfall would be needed through the end of April to overcome current deficits.

He said that would be difficult to reach following some of the driest months on record.

Snowpack in the North Platte and South Platte river basins are looking the best at 91 percent and 87 percent of normal, respectively. The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basin is faring the worst with only 53 percent of median snowpack.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

The Animas River has been setting records this week, but not the kind of records you want to see for the waterway that cuts through the heart of Durango.

According to a U.S. Geological Survey gauge station that has 107 years of water level data, there have been record-low flows almost daily.

The previous record low for March 6 was set in 1990 when the Animas River was flowing at 121 cubic feet per second. On Tuesday, the Animas River was flowing at 104 cfs. And on Wednesday, the previous record low of 118 cfs in the 1990s was shattered when the Animas River averaged 107 cfs.

These numbers are provisional and must be confirmed by the USGS. They are based on the daily average discharge levels recorded at a gauge station near the Powerhouse Science Center, 1333 Camino del Rio.

The dismally low flows can be tied to drought-like conditions that have plagued Southwest Colorado this winter, said Jeff Derry, executive director of the Center for Snow & Avalanche Studies.

The Animas River typically flows to a near trickle in fall and winter as snowpack builds up in the higher elevations before eventually melting into peak flows during spring and early summer. But this winter is abnormal.

For context, the mean flow for the Animas River on March 8 is 240 cfs. But a gauge reading at 9:30 a.m. Thursday showed the river flowed at less than half that – about 114 cfs – a record low.

Derry said extremely dry conditions in the fall created these historically low flows, and the dryness continued most of the winter. That, in part, has caused the water table to remain low.

Even worse, terrain at lower elevations is bone dry.

SNOTEL stations (weather-monitoring sites operated by National Resource Conservation Service) are mainly located above 10,000 feet in elevation, and even there, snowpack is at only 50 percent of normal, based on about 40 years of records. Low elevations aren’t tracked as closely.

A SNOTEL station at Cascade Creek at 8,800 feet, near Purgatory Resort, measured the snowpack at 34 percent of normal Thursday.

Jerry Archuleta, with the National Resource Conservation Service in Pagosa Springs, said the latest stream flow forecasts show the Animas River’s spring runoff is likely to be less than 50 percent of normal averages.

NRCS data show water storage in Southwest Colorado reservoirs is about 105 percent, compared with 114 percent at this time last year.

Carryover storage from last year’s heavy snow totals will help with this year’s coming drought, but it could hurt irrigators next year, said Bruce Whitehead, executive director of Southwestern Water Conservation District.

Whitehead said this year mirrors another notably dry and dangerous year: 2002, the year of the Missionary Ridge Fire. Right now, the region is above 2002’s snowpack levels, but that could rise or fall depending on the weather.

The United States Drought Monitor’s data indicates this year is actually worse than 2002.

“It doesn’t look good,” Whitehead said. “Hopefully we get some more moisture. In the past, we’ve had late spring storms come in and bring snowpack up considerably.”

Jim White, an aquatic biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said fish populations in the Animas River are safe – for now; the water is still cold and fish are too inactive to detect problems.

Once water temperatures begin to rise, though, fish and aquatic bugs will become more active but will have less room to move around because of low water. This can cause overcrowding and lead to deadly diseases…

Andrew Lyons, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said the La Niña weather pattern that cuts Southwest Colorado off from any meaningful moisture is expected to persist until at least May.

That means for the next three months, below-average precipitation and above-average temperatures will continue in Durango.

For the record, it appears the lowest the USGS gauge station has ever recorded the Animas River flowing was about 100 cfs.

West Drought Monitor March 6, 2018.

#Drought news: Fix-a-leak week March 19-25, 2018

From The Summit Daily (Deepan Dutta):

In the Colorado mountains, climate change is causing rising temperatures, shorter winters and lower snowpacks, leading to growing prospects of a statewide drought this summer. Water waste compounds the problem, as the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that household leaks alone waste 1 trillion gallons of water nationwide every year. As part of the effort to promote water conservation, the EPA and High Country Conservation Center are asking homeowners to hunt for household leaks during the 10th annual Fix a Leak Week.

While the Blue River Basin is relatively robust this season, the news isn’t good across the rest of the state. According to a February report from the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, 71 percent of the state is in some level of drought classification. Statewide precipitation from snowfall is at 70 percent of average, and long-term forecasts indicate the state will see a warmer, drier spring than normal.

“This could be the new normal,” said Colorado River District spokesman Jim Pokrandt. “Colorado’s in our 17th year of sustained, below-average snowpack, and a lot of skiers have already noticed it as there aren’t as many powder days. This year certainly illustrates the fact that drought is in our face.”


While humans cannot directly control the climate (yet), there are easily manageable ways to save water in our homes. The EPA says that individual households may waste up to 10,000 gallons a year because of leaks. Plugging those leaks is a simple, but effective, way to save a lot of water and money…

In its 10th year, Fix a Leak Week runs from March 19-25. The aim of the campaign is to get homeowners to think of ways they can promote water conservation at home, either by mending leaks or replacing old fixtures…

Pokrandt suggested other ways homeowners may save water, including installing low-flow faucets and showerheads as well as inspecting landscape irrigation systems for leaks. Better yet, he said, is to use landscaping that is more appropriate for the local environment.

“A lot of us moved from the East, where they get 40 or so inches of rain, and that makes them think they should have fence-to-fence bluegrass carpeting out here, too,” he said. “You should have regionally appropriate landscaping, and not try not to make your place look like it’s in Charlotte, North Carolina.”

For more information about Fix a Leak Week and ways to conserve water at home, visit the EPA’s website at EPA.gov/watersense/fix-leak-week.

From The Rocky Mountain Collegian (Ty Betts):

“We’re in a drought and we’ve been in a drought for 18 years,” [Luke] Runyon said. “It’s not getting better, and there is more and more reason to think that this is the new normal.”

2018 in particular is shaping up to be an extremely low year for snowpack, Runyon said, which means less water will be available to the seven U.S. states and Mexico who all pull from the Colorado River. Runyon said 2002 was the driest year ever recorded for the Colorado River basin, and this year is only slightly above those levels.

Research from the Natural Resource Conservation Service shows that Colorado is only at 66 percent of average snowpack for 2018.

“People say we could maybe make (snowfall) up in months like April and May but at this point, it would take some pretty crazy snowstorms to make up that deficit,” Runyon said.

La Niña looks to be on the way out

From KOAA.com (Sam Schreier):

La Niña held strong from November through February, but a fresh update from the Climate Prediction Center shows strong signs the pattern is starting to lose its grip. We’ll talk about La Niña’s impact on southern Colorado so far this year, how we know it’s weakening, and more importantly, the impacts we’ll see through the rest of the year.

Did We Feel The Effects of La Niña?
For the United State, yes we did see traditional La Niña impacts and we have data to prove it. La Niña will typically give most of the southern United State warmer than average air temperatures and below average rain/snow. I think we all know how this Winter turned out with snowfall as nearly every month, except February for Colorado Springs, turned out snowfall totals well below average. The picture below backs this up. Nearly all of the southern half of the United States is in or around a shade of brown, which represents below normal precipitation., where the areas in green by Montana and Idaho represent above average precipitation. Colorado wasn’t hit as hard as states like Texas and California, we we still were generally at or below average from December through March.

How Do We Know La Niña Is Weakening?
Updates from the Climate Prediction center, using both current data and forecast predictions show clear signs that while La Niña isn’t done yet, it’s showing signs of dying. The westerly winds that push warm water to the west away from the United States are starting to weaken. This means we’re seeing the warm water, actually under the surface which is unusual, start to move back east and try to warm the cold water that makes up La Niña. The picture below shows the large abundance of cold water indication our La Niña pattern is still occurring, but that warmer ocean water moving in will, over the next few months, start to move La Niña towards a neutral pattern.

What Does This Mean For Southern Colorado?
There’s some good and bad news here! The good news is our La Niña pattern is forecast to end around May. That means we have a good chance of having a near normal or non-interrupted pattern for our monsoon season, which as many locals know, brings most of our much needed precipitation for the year. The bad news, unfortunately, is that because La Niña is forecast to last into May, we probably will not see normal snow totals through March and April. Normally we do very well in March and April isn’t too bad either for snow, as the two graphs below show over the last 10 years.

Predictions Through The End Of The Year:
Simply put, things will be very difficult to predict through the rest of March let along Spring and Summer. As La Niña breaks down we still could get a few big snowstorms or two in March and April, but the chances of us staying warm and dry are much stronger. As mentioned earlier, monsoon season will probably hold out alright since the dry patterns of La Niña should end by May, but the atmosphere will still need time to adjust and get back to normal even after La Niña is finished. If we go back towards a ENSO (El Niño or La Niña) neutral pattern through the rest of the year, it would most likely translate to near normal amounts of precipitation from Summer through Fall and into early Winter of next year.

#Snowpack news: Above Normal February Provides Minimal Improvement — Brian Domonkos

Here’s the release from the NRCS (Brian Domonkos):

Snowfall ramped up across western Colorado for two weeks in the middle of February where in the Rio Grande accumulations added up to a 25 percent improvement in percent of normal, the largest increase in the state. Other watersheds also showed considerable improvement as a result of these same storm systems, such as the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins, the Gunnison, and Yampa & White River basins. Statewide snowpack improved 13 percent to 72 percent of normal, and statewide precipitation, at 109 percent of average, posted the first monthly total above normal for water year 2018 (starting on October 1, 2017). As a whole, February precipitation was above normal for all basins except the Arkansas. “February precipitation was well placed, focusing where it was needed most,” said Brian Domonkos, NRCS Colorado Snow Survey Supervisor.

As snowpack improvements spread across Southern and Western Colorado, little change occurred along the Northern Front Range, both sides of the continental divide. Yet it is in watersheds of the Laramie, Cache la Poudre and Muddy Creek, a tributary of the Colorado River, where snowpacks remain the highest in the state. These basins are at 103, 98 and 98 percent of normal respectively. Other surrounding northern basins maintain elevated snowpack levels compared to the rest of the state. With the higher snowpacks here, streamflow projections continue to hover just below normal between 80 and 100 percent of normal, from the Cache la Poudre River at 96 percent to the Colorado River near Kremmling at 85 percent of normal. On the other end of the spectrum, along both east and west sides of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains forecasts are indicating that spring runoff may yield nearly 30 percent of normal volumes in a number of watersheds. Elsewhere in the state, the majority of streamflows are estimated to provide 50 to 70 percent of normal runoff.

From a snowpack perspective Domonkos comments, “Greater than 200 percent of normal snowfall through the end of April would be necessary to overcome current deficits.” A difficult mark to reach through two straight months following some of the driest on record. With little chance of reaching a normal snowpack peak, water managers look to reservoirs to supplement streamflows. It must be remembered that streamflow forecasts predict water runoff and do not include reservoir releases because reservoir management is based on irrigation demands. More information about March 1st snowpack, mountain precipitation, reservoirs levels and streamflow forecasts can be found in the March 1, 2018 Colorado Water Supply Outlook Report.

For more detailed and the most up to date information about Colorado snowpack and supporting water supply related information, refer to the Colorado Snow Survey website. Or contact Brian Domonkos – Brian.Domonkos@co.usda.gov – 720-544-2852

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Source: Can Day Zero happen here? – News on TAP