#Colorado #Snowpack/#Drought news: #ColoradoRiver Basin now above normal peak for water year #COriver #aridification

Upper Colorado River Basin High/Low graph March 8, 2019 via the NRCS.

From The Vail Daily (Scott Miller):

According to an email from Diane Johnson, the communications and public affairs manager for the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District, the Feb. 28 snowpack on Vail Mountain exceeded the peak reached in April of 2018.

The news is better still in other areas.

Peter Goble of the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University said there are places in the state — particularly in the southwest — where snow so far has already exceeded the historic averages…

Goble added that Copper Mountain’s snowpack is already at 88 percent of its historic peak. That’s good news, since March and April are the snowiest months in this area…

Dennis Phillips, a forecaster at the Grand Junction office of the National Weather Service, said a combination of bigger weather patterns is bringing a combination of moisture and cool air to the area.

The moisture is coming off the Pacific Ocean via the southwestern U.S. Meanwhile, the jet stream has dropped, bringing cold air in the region. That adds up to a good chance of both snow, and temperatures cool enough to keep that snow on the ground.

Forecasters a few weeks ago declared an official “El Nino” weather pattern in the Pacific. Those patterns often bring storms to Southern Colorado and the Front Range.

Phillips said he suspects the most recent storm was due to something called a Madden-Julian oscillation. Those patterns can last between 30 and 90 days, and will often pump moist air from the Pacific to the U.S…

Colorado Drought Monitor March 5, 2019.

The current snow throughout the state has prompted the Colorado Climate Center to downgrade the severity of drought conditions through most of the state.

Eagle County is still listed as being in a “severe” drought. But the southwest part of the state is no longer in the “exceptional” drought conditions that have lingered for more than a year.

Goble said forecasters at the state climate office have been cautious about downgrading drought conditions through the winter, waiting to see what this season and the spring bring, from sudden heat to wind-driven dust on snow that can accelerate the seasonal melt.

“But at this point, we’re extremely optimistic that drought (conditions) will improve in the Summit and Eagle County areas,” Goble said.

And, while spring is coming, we need the snow that falls to stick around on area hillsides.

Johnson in an email noted that cold temperatures are helping this year, especially compared to the same period in 2018.

“Lack of snow was bad enough, but warm weather really had it melting,” she wrote.

From The Kiowa County Press (Chris Sorensen):

One week after extreme drought made a nearly complete retreat from Colorado, severe conditions were also in sharp decline in the state.

At the start of the water year October 1, nearly half of Colorado was in extreme or exceptional drought, the two worst categories. This week, extreme drought is absent, less than one percent of the state is under extreme conditions, and severe drought dropped from 35 percent to 12 percent. Western Colorado continues to see the most significant improvements as frequent winter storms blanket the area under increased snowpack.

Severe drought now mainly covers south central Colorado, interrupted by a pocket of moderate conditions in the San Luis Valley. Remaining exceptional conditions are in southeast La Plata and Costilla counties, southern Archuleta County, and a sliver of southwest Las Animas County.

Parts of Moffat and Routt counties, along with nearly all of Jackson County, saw moderate drought drop to abnormally dry conditions. Parts of a few eastern Colorado counties also saw moderate drought shift to abnormally dry. Southern Douglas and central Elbert counties were the prime beneficiaries, in addition to northern El Pass and a small portion of west central Lincoln counties.

Overall, 11 percent of the state is drought-free, while 31 percent is abnormally dry, up from 27 percent one week ago. Forty-six percent of Colorado is experiencing moderate drought, up from 27 percent, with 12 percent in severe conditions, down from 34 percent. Extreme drought was steady at less than one percent of the state.

One year ago, 10 percent of Colorado was drought-free, with 19 percent abnormally dry. Twenty-five percent was in moderate drought, while 37 percent experienced severe conditions. The remaining nine percent was in exceptional drought.

Snowpack continues to increase, improving snow water equivalent measurements for this time of year. Statewide, snow water equivalent – the measure of liquid water available in the snowpack – stood at 127 percent of the median, up from 114 percent February 28. Individual basins across the state ranged from 118 to 136 percent of the median. The Gunnison and San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins were strongest at 136 percent, a substantial improvement from the mid-70s two months ago, while the Arkansas basin followed at 134 percent.

Colorado basin-filled snowpack map March 9, 2019 via the NRCS.

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