#Drought news: Improved conditions in SE #Colorado, replenishment of soil moisture a wild card

Colorado Drought Monitor February 12, 2019.

From The Prowers Journal (Russ Baldwin):

SYNOPSIS…Updated

Abundant and beneficial snow across much of Colorado`s Mountains over the past few months has prompted the US Drought Monitor to improve the Exceptional Drought (D4) conditions that has plagued southwest Colorado over the past year. With that said, the latest Drought Monitor, issued Thursday February 14th 2019, is now indicting all of Mineral County in Extreme Drought (D3) conditions.

Moderate Drought (D1) conditions are depicted across Teller County and the rest of El Paso County, as well as across northeastern Fremont County, southern Pueblo County, Crowley County, western and northeastern Otero County, western Kiowa County, northwestern Bent County and central into eastern portions of Las Animas County.

Abnormally Dry (D0) conditions are indicated across central into eastern portions of Kiowa County, the rest Otero County, northern Bent County, northwestern Prowers County, and eastern portions of Las Animas County.

Drought free conditions are depicted across Baca County, extreme northeastern Las Animas County, southern Bent County, most of Prowers County and eastern portions of Kiowa County.

FIRE DANGER

Fall precipitation helped to ease fire danger across much of South Central and Southeast Colorado. However, with cured fuels and more windy weather associated with the Winter Season, fire danger across non snow covered areas could be moderate to high at times into the early Spring.

AGRICULTURAL

Summer through early Winter precipitation helped to improve soil moisture, especially across southeastern portions of the state. However, longer term dryness continues to be indicated across South Central and Southwest Colorado.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo) via The Cortez Journal:

A number of different factors could hamper snowpack in the mountains from reaching reservoirs, especially water being soaked up by the parched forest floor.

Southwest Colorado has been feeling the effects of intense drought since fall 2017.

The region received about half the amount of snow it usually does during the 2017-18 winter season. Then, rains failed to show up in spring and summer, leading to the second lowest water year for the region in recorded history.

That has resulted in low levels in area reservoirs. As of Friday, for instance, Vallecito Reservoir was about 30 percent full, and Lemon Reservoir, farther to the west, sat at about 17 percent capacity…

But water managers are taking the season’s snow in stride.

It is positive that the parched earth will receive much-needed moisture, but the low soil moisture content means much of that water won’t make it to reservoirs. The soil acts like a sponge.

“Soil moisture is really the big kicker this year,” said Susan Behery, a hydraulic engineer with the Bureau of Reclamation’s office in Durango…

Becky Bollinger, a research associate with the Colorado Climate Center, said in a conference call to reporters Thursday that despite strong snowpack in the Colorado River Basin, the center predicts lower-than-average levels in water supplies.

The reason: Again, it comes back to soil moisture.

“It will be a critical piece in the spring,” Bollinger said. “But there might be some uncertainty as to how critical.”

It’s difficult to predict how much moisture the soil will soak up. But, it is an issue that has water managers holding out hope for more snow.

Ken Beck with the Pine River Irrigation District, which manages Vallecito Reservoir, said it will likely take snowpack reaching 130 to 150 percent of average levels to get the 125,400-acre-foot reservoir full again.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” Beck said. “I don’t mean to seem pessimistic because we’re excited, but we want to be cautious because we have a long ways to go to fill it.”

Beck said other factors also cause water losses to reservoirs, such as desert dust deposited on snowpack during wind storms causing water to evaporate and runoff to occur earlier than normal. Wind itself can also cause water loss, Beck said, pulling the moisture out of the soil and dehydrating it.

As of Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor delisted nearly all of Southwest Colorado from the “exceptional drought” category, the center’s highest level. The region remains in the “extreme drought” category.

From the Nation Drought Mitigation Center (Claire Shield):

Precipitation surpluses and deficits were scattered across the West in January. Precipitation amounts ranged from 150 to over 300 percent of normal in pockets of Montana, Utah, western Arizona, northern New Mexico, northwestern and southern Nevada, and California, but were only 5 to 70 percent of normal in western Washington and Oregon, central Nevada, southern and eastern Arizona, and southern New Mexico, and in more isolated pockets of eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and California. A pocket in northern Montana saw the warmest temperatures during the month (8 to 10 degrees above normal) while a small area in eastern Utah saw the coolest temperatures (4 to 8 degrees below normal). The remainder of the region saw temperatures between 4 degrees above average and 4 degrees below average, with warmer than normal conditions generally found in Montana, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, and southwestern Idaho and cooler than normal conditions found in southwestern Montana, Idaho, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. One- and two-category drought degradation was found in parts of Idaho and Montana during January, but one- and two-category drought improvement was found in large areas of the remainder of the region, leading to the reduction of coverage of all drought categories. Moderate drought was reduced 12.03 percent to 41.22 percent and severe drought was reduced 10.10 percent to 17.12 percent. The area of the region in extreme drought at the end of the month was only 3.49 percent—less than half the area at the beginning of the month (8.35 percent). Exceptional drought was almost completely eradicated, covering only 0.39 percent of the region by the end of the month.

West Drought Monitor February 12, 2019.

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