#Snowpack news: SW #Colorado basins are still way behind #drought

Westwide SNOTEL snowpack map December 2, 2018 via the NRCS.

From The Colorado Sun (Jesse Paul):

The U.S. Drought Monitor shows conditions have improved only marginally since the summer and meteorologists and water advocates say whether the snow is adequate to quench the most parched parts of the state won’t be known until spring, when the runoff begins.

Areas of Colorado that most need the snow still are at below-normal snowpack levels compared to the deep snow reported in northern Colorado.

“We have been able to rebound a little bit with these storms,” said Megan Stackhouse, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. “Durango is in our forecast area, they are still 8.66 inches below normal (precipitation) for the year so far.”

West Drought Monitor November 27, 3018.
Colorado Drought Monitor November 27, 3018.

Snowpack in the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins was at 70 percent of normal as of Friday. The Gunnison River basin was at 94 percent of normal. The Rio Grande River basin was at 86 percent of normal and the Colorado River basin — which hydrates much of the the Front Range — was at 133 percent of normal.

The South Platte River basin’s snowpack level was 155 percent of normal heading into the weekend, when more snow fell.

Overall, the state’s snowpack level on Friday was 114 percent of normal, 108 percent of average, and 186 percent compared to last year’s level at this time.

From The Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):

A congressionally mandated climate change report predicts dire consequences for the United States if greenhouse gas emissions are not immediately reduced, adding that some of the most severe impacts will occur in Utah and other parts of the Southwest.

Utah experts say those changes are not on the doorstep, they’re already here.

“We are just on the fringe of this. It is only going to get more intense with droughts that are longer and hotter, and snow becoming less common until we have no snow at all,” predicted Brian McInerney, senior hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City…

The report’s findings include:

• The season heat wave length in many U.S. cities has increased by 40 days since 1960.

• Large declines in Western states’ snowpacks have occurred from 1955 to 2016.

• Atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, the largest contributor to human-caused warming, has increased 40 percent since the industrial era.

• Alaska is warming faster than any other U.S. state and has warmed twice as fast as the global average since the mid-20th century.

In Utah, summer temperatures are sizzling as well, the nighttime lows are getting higher, and the state continues to struggle with the impacts of protracted drought.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Liz Forster):

“Drought is embedded and holding in the Four Corners, mostly over New Mexico and Colorado,” said Royce Fontenot, senior service hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque. “It’s really had an impact on water supply, and we’re seeing record-low stream flows.”

Almost 82 percent of the Intermountain West is in drought, with 8.64 percent in exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Colorado is a bit worse. About 83 percent is in drought and 13.35 percent of the state, mostly in the southwest corner, is in exceptional drought.

Stream flows in the southwest portion of the state also are much below normal, according to data from the U.S. Geological Survey. Thirteen streamflow stations between Mesa and Archuleta counties were reported as much below normal compared with historic levels, three as below normal and five as normal.

The dearth of water is obvious in Blue Mesa Reservoir, the largest reservoir in Colorado. Driving along U.S. 50, water level lines of years past are etched into the dry reservoir walls. The data paints an even more startling picture: the reservoir is at 43 percent of its average capacity recorded between 1985 and 2016. That measurement puts its November water volume in below the 10th percentile of historic levels.

Downstream, Lake Powell made headlines this year when it dropped to less than half full. This year was the second driest year on record for the major reservoir in Arizona, lagging just behind 2002.

Although eastern Colorado received “great” precipitation events toward the end of the summer and the beginning of the fall, it was not enough to satiate the parched soils, said Fontenot.

“The streams just didn’t get what they need,” he said.

To fully lift the Four Corners out of the drought by June, the region would need to receive 173 percent of normal precipitation, NOAA models show.

Early-season snow raised the snowpack in parts of Colorado to more than 200 percent of normal. Snow has continued to periodically fall, but so has the percent of median snowpack.

As of Nov. 29, the state sat at 117 percent of median snowpack. The northern and eastern part of the state recorded between 125 percent and 151 percent of median, while the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins reported 70 percent of median…

“It’s the new normal here, and we have to get used to these trends and cycles where the water situation is more iffy year to year,” Steve Berry, spokesman for Colorado Springs Utilities.

Systemwide, Utilities’ reservoirs are at 74 percent capacity compared with 87 percent capacity this time last year.

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