#Runoff/#Snowpack news: Huerfano County flood preparedness meeting recap

A firefighting helicopter flies in the foreground while the Spring Creek Fire (August 2018) rages behind it. Photo credit: El Paso County

From KOAA.com (Caiti Blase):

Residents in Huerfano County are preparing for the worst as major flooding could hit the region this year due to the huge burn scar left by the 2018 Spring Creek Fire.

A flood preparedness meeting was held Wednesday night at the Fox Theatre in Walsenburg with dozens of people attending to find out what steps they need to take to get ready for potential flooding.

Officials are warning – whatever you thought you knew about flooding think again.

John Galusha, county administrator for Huerfano County, said, “The burn severity is the highest burn severity recorded in a fire in the United States ever.”

Last summer’s Spring Creek Fire may be over, but the damage it left behind is going to rear its ugly head in the coming months.

Galusha said, “We know that we’re going to have extreme runoff so it’s going to be 7-15 times higher than our average runoff.”

Thousands of homes in Huerfano County could be flooded either by rapid snow melt or monsoon season. The soil in this area was burned so deep during the Spring Fire that it will actually repel water.

From The Farmington Daily Times (Mike Easterling):

The abnormally dry conditions that have prevailed in the Four Corners region for the past year and a half, leaving most of San Juan County in a major drought, have shown signs of dissipating this winter.

But even with the snowpack in the southwest Colorado high country at an encouragingly high level, an official at the National Weather Service in Albuquerque is offering a mixed perspective on the region’s long-term moisture situation.

“That’s the big question,” Royce Fontenot, the senior service hydrologist for the NWS office in Albuquerque, said today. “Do we balance the stronger short-term upswing (in moisture) versus the longer-term deficit?”

Fontenot said the NWS is nowhere near ready to declare an end to the drought.

“We’re cautiously optimistic we’re going to continue to see improvement, but we’re still looking at the long-term drought and the damage it has done to the system.”

Dry conditions settled in over San Juan County in early October 2017, Fontenot said, resulting in a devastatingly dry winter of 2017-2018 and a poor monsoon season last summer. Over the past 17 months, the county has received only 55 percent of its normal moisture, and that has left most of the county locked in varying stages of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The far west edge of the county is in a severe drought, the third-worst classification. Most of the rest of the county is in extreme drought, the second-worst classification. And an oval-shaped patch extending east from Farmington to the Rio Arriba County line is in an exceptional drought, the worst stage. That classification is typified by exceptional and widespread crop/pasture loss and shortages of water creating water emergencies.

But Fontenot said conditions have improved over the last 90 days. Over that period, the normal amount of precipitation the Farmington area would have expected to see was 1.65 inches. Instead, he said, it has gotten. 2.97 inches — 180 percent of normal…

Even more moisture has fallen in the mountains of southwest Colorado, the watershed that feeds San Juan County’s rivers. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Colorado SNOTEL website, the snowpack in the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan rivers watershed was 131 percent of median today, the wettest region in all of Colorado…

Windy conditions can disperse much of that snow, and it can simply evaporate, Fontenot said. And if it turns warm too quickly this spring, the snowpack can all melt at once, sending much of that moisture downstream before it can be used.

Another factor working against the region, he said, is the soil moisture content. The period from October 2017 to December 2018 was so dry, he said, that much of the snow that has fallen from the sky won’t wind up in a river as it normally would.

From The Associated Press (John Antczak):

California is drenched and its mountains are piled high with snow amid a still-unfolding winter of storms that was unimaginable just a few months ago.

Drought conditions have almost been eliminated, hills blackened by huge wildfires are sporting lush coats of green, and snow has fallen in the usually temperate suburbs of Southern California, where chilly conditions have made jackets and scarves the rule…

Blizzards have pounded the Sierra Nevada, burying the towering mountain range in massive amounts of snow. On the eastern side of the range, for example, the Mammoth Mountain resort reported nearly 47.8 feet (14.5 meters) of snow at the summit so far this season.

While frequently disrupting travel, the storms stoked a big part of the state’s water supply — the Sierra snowpack that melts and runs off into reservoirs during spring and summer.

The California Department of Water Resources reported Thursday that the Sierra snowpack is now 153 percent of average to date.

A manual measurement at Phillips Station off U.S. 50 near Sierra-at-Tahoe found a snow depth of 113 inches (287 centimeters) and a snow water equivalent of 43.5 inches (110.5 centimeters), more than double what was recorded there in January.

Phillips Station is where then-Gov. Jerry Brown attended a snowpack survey in April 2015 that found a field barren of any measureable snow. Brown later ordered Californians to use less water. On Thursday, the department was unable to livestream the measurement because stormy weather cut the cell connection…

Where it hasn’t snowed, there has been rain, and a lot of it.

Nearly 21 inches (53.3 centimeters) of rain fell in 48 hours this week near the Northern California wine country city of Guerneville, where the Russian River was slowly receding Thursday after extensive flooding…

The U.S. Drought Monitor reported Thursday that more than 87 percent of California was now free of any level of drought or unusual dryness. Just 2.3 percent — along the Oregon border — was in moderate drought, and the remainder was in a condition called abnormally dry.

Three months ago, nearly 84 percent of the state was in moderate, severe or extreme drought, and the rest was abnormally dry.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map March 7, 2019 via the NRCS.

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