@ColoradoClimate: Weekly Climate, #Water and #Drought Assessment of the Intermountain West

Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center. Here’s the summary:

Summary: December 17, 2019

Last week the Intermountain West saw a nice weekend snowstorm in the mountains of Colorado with snowfall totals of 1 foot up to 3 feet in areas. Precipitation totals ranged from 1 to 4 inches. The other area in the IMW region that saw precipitation was north-central Utah and western Wyoming, with totals in the 1-4″ range as well. The rest of the region mainly saw less than 0.25″, with much of Arizona, New Mexico and eastern Colorado seeing less than 0.1″.

The precipitation through the mountains has been great on the short-term timescale, 30 to 60 days, with above average precipitation. On the longer timescales, 90-day and beyond is still very dry through western Colorado into much of Utah. It will take much more above average precipitation to recover.

The storm was very beneficial in the snowpack. We are now seeing above average snowpack in most of the IMW region, including in New Mexico and Arizona.

Despite the snow last week and the snow this month, temperatures over most of the region are above average for the month. Central Wyoming is the only area showing some widespread below average temperatures this month, with much of Colorado only seeing 0-3 degrees above average.

The precipitation outlook for the next week is looking pretty dry for much of the region. It looks like there is going to be a system to come through Arizona and southern Utah, but dry for the rest of the IMW. The 8-14 day outlook is showing good chances for above average precipitation the 24th – 30th, so some areas may have a white Christmas. Temperatures are leaning to be above normal during that same week.

#Drought news: 1-category improvement was made in central #Colorado and extreme northern #NewMexico

Click on a thumbnail graphic below to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website: Here’s an excerpt:

This Week’s Drought Summary

A series of Pacific fronts brought welcome moisture to the Northwest (from northern California northward into Washington), but even with this precipitation, the Water Year to Date (WYTD; since Oct. 1) basin average precipitation and Snow Water Content (SWC) were still well below normal (30-70%). Farther east, frigid Arctic air (weekly average temperatures up to 15 degree F below normal) was bottled up in the northern Plains and upper Midwest (and central Canada), while the West, South, and East observed above-normal readings (weekly temperature anomalies + 3 to 6 degree F). As the fronts progressed eastward, they slowed and waves of low pressure developed along the fronts, generating widespread rains (1-4 inches, locally to 8 inches) in the Southeast, mid-Atlantic, and along coastal New England. In the colder air to the north, the precipitation fell as snow, blanketing parts of the lower Missouri and Ohio Valleys, northern Appalachians, eastern Great Lakes region, and interior New England with light to moderate totals (2-6 inches). In contrast, the Southwest, Plains, and western Corn Belt were mainly dry. In Alaska, above-normal temperatures prevailed across the state, with decent precipitation observed along the southern coast. Shower activity increased across the eastern Hawaiian Islands, allowing for some improvements on the Big Island…

High Plains

Most of the Plains saw little or no precipitation this week, with some light snow falling across North Dakota, southeast Wyoming, Nebraska, and eastern Kansas (for Colorado, refer to the West). The frigid Arctic air was mostly confined to the northern Plains and upper Midwest (weekly TANs -5 to -10 degrees F), although some colder air spilled southward and eastward into the central Plains and Midwest. With this time of the year being climatologically dry, typically cold with little or no evaporation, and with frozen soils, it is a difficult time for drought to develop and expand in most northern areas. Plus, all short- to long-term indices are near to above normal (wet) in the northern Plains. Farther south, however, much drier conditions existed in southwestern Kansas (D2 to D3), especially during the 3- to 6-month range. After 1 to 2 category deteriorations were made the past 4 weeks, no changes were made here this week…


After several wet weeks in the Southwest (and much improvement), tranquil weather returned to most of the region. With SNOTEL WYTD basin average precipitation and SWE values in the Southwest generally at or above normal, this region was generally left unchanged. The exceptions to this was across northern Nevada and southern Idaho where light to moderate precipitation (0.5-2 inches) fell, producing positive SPIs (wet) at 1-, 2-, 3-,4-, 6-months, and beyond, along with above-normal USGS stream flows. As a result, D0 was removed in these 2 areas. In northern Utah and most of Colorado, light to moderate precipitation continued to provide drought relief, especially in the central and southern Rockies where a 1-category improvement was made in central Colorado and extreme northern New Mexico. The area of northern Utah was already drought-free.

In contrast, the Northwest (from northern California northward into Washington) finally received welcome and widespread precipitation (2-4 inches along the coast and in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada, locally to 10 inches in extreme northwestern California), but this Water Year has seen far too few weeks like this. This situation is further exacerbated by the fact that this is the wet season (large normal totals) so that even light precipitation can quickly accumulate huge deficits. Thus, even with this week’s precipitation, many stations SPIs at 30-, 60-, 90-days, and longer time periods were at D2-D4 levels; USGS 1-, 7-, 14-, and 28-day average stream flows were at near- or record lows (tenth percentile or less); 90-day deficits exceeded a foot (and more) in western Washington and Oregon; SNOTEL basin average WYTD precipitation ranged between 34-60% and Dec. 18 SWC was between 27-65%. Accordingly, D1 was introduced to the Washington and Oregon Cascades, northeastern Oregon, and northern and southwestern Idaho where the driest tools converged. In addition, D0 was expanded into central Washington, central Idaho, and western Montana…


While western sections were dry (Oklahoma, western two-thirds of Texas, western Arkansas), precipitation gradually increased across eastern sections, with scattered lines of showers and thunderstorms dropping light to moderate totals (1 to 3 inches) on parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The rains were enough to provide some slight improvement in northern and central Louisiana (D0 and D1 shrunken), but much lighter amounts in southwestern Arkansas and eastern Texas, along with slightly above-normal temperatures, somewhat increased the area of D0-D2 in those 2 areas. In western Oklahoma, conditions were maintained as November and December precipitation is normally quite low this time of year (each month contributes to 1-2% of the annual total), and seasonable temperatures helped…

Looking Ahead

During the next 5 days (December 19-23), most of the lower 48 States will be tranquil (dry), except for heavy precipitation (more than 4 inches) in the Pacific Northwest (from northern California northward), and in the southeastern quarter of the Nation (2-5 inches in the central and eastern Gulf and southern Atlantic Coasts). If this rain occurs, parts of Florida may close in or break their record high December amount, effectively wiping away any existing drought. The upper and eastern Great Lakes region should see snow showers along favored locations. 5-day temperatures should average above-normal for much of the contiguous U.S.

The CPC 6-10 day outlook (December 24-28) favors above-normal precipitation across the Southwest, Plains, and upper Midwest, and in southern and eastern Alaska. Subnormal precipitation is likely along the Atlantic Coast and Montana. Temperatures are expected to average below-normal in the Far West and Alaska, with good odds for unseasonably mild readings in the eastern half of the Nation.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending December 17, 2019.

Lost for decades, the #ColoradoOrange apple variety has been found — officially — The Colorado Sun

One of the Colorado Orange apples collected from an ancient tree in Fremont County, Colorado. (Provided by Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project) via The Colorado Sun.

From The Colorado Sun (Nancy Lofholm):

The Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project compared the fruit of a tree found near Cañon City to botanical illustrations and wax castings of award-winning apples to identify the lost treasure

“We are 98% sure, give or take 3%, we have found the elusive Colorado Orange apple,” Addie Schuenemeyer wrote in an announcement from the nonprofit Montezuma Orchard Restoration Project she and her husband started to preserve old apple varieties in the southwest corner of the state.

The announcement came following a visit to Colorado State University where they matched a suspected Colorado Orange apple to a wax cast of that variety made more than a century ago.

The Colorado Orange was a popular apple in the late 1800s. It was more oval in shape than many other apples and had a yellow peel with an orange blush. In taste, it had a bit of a citrus note. It kept longer than many apples…

The Schuenemeyers scoured Montezuma County, once a prolific apple-growing hotspot in Colorado, and couldn’t find a single Colorado Orange…

In their continuing search, the Schuenemeyers were able to trace the origins of the Colorado Orange to Fremont County. There they found a lone, decimated tree that was down to a single living limb. They were able to pick enough apples for testing.

DNA tests on samples of those apples came back “unique unknown.” The apples didn’t match any other known cultivar in the U.S. Department of Agriculture apple collection.

But there was no Colorado Orange in that collection for comparison.

Next, the Schuenemeyers compared the apple to paintings of the Colorado Orange that were made by USDA artists in the early 1900s. The shape, size, color, ribs, seeds, cavity – everything matched.

One of four watercolor botanical illustrations of the Colorado Orange apple in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Pomological Watercolor Collection at the National Agricultural Library. This one was painted by Amanda Almira Newton in 1905, from a specimen collected in Canon City, Colorado via The Colorado Sun.

But they needed more. They needed a horticulture sample. They finally found one in Colorado State University’s Agricultural and Natural Resources Archive. Around the turn of the 20th century, a professor had made wax castings of award-winning apples, including the Colorado Orange.

US senator proposes money, oversight to boost dam safety — Associated Press

The Teton Dam failed after first fill June 5, 1976.
By WaterArchives.org from Sacramento, California, USA – [IDAHO-L-0010] Teton Dam Flood – Newdale, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41039960

From the Associated Press (David A. Lieb):

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on Tuesday called for more federal money and oversight to shore up the nation’s aging dams following an Associated Press investigation that found scores of potentially troubling dams located near homes and communities across the country.

Gillibrand said new legislation in the works should ensure that federal standards are in place to make dams more resilient to extreme weather events that are becoming more common because of a changing climate. She also called for greater funding for federal grants to fix unsafe dams that pose a risk to the public.

“We should not wait for a catastrophic dam failure or major flooding event to spur us to action,” Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, said in a letter to leaders of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which is crafting a new water resources bill. Gillibrand is a member of the committee.

She cited an AP analysis published last month that used federal data and state open records laws to identify at least 1,688 high-hazard dams rated in poor or unsatisfactory condition as of last year in 44 states and Puerto Rico. The AP analysis noted that the actual number is almost certainly higher, because some states haven’t rated all their dams and several states declined to release full data.

The AP’s investigation focused on high-hazard dams — which could kill people if they were to fail — that were found by inspectors to be in the worst condition. Georgia led the way with 198 high-hazard dams in unsatisfactory or poor condition, followed by North Carolina with 168 and Pennsylvania with 145. New York had 48 such dams.

El Paso County posts master plan survey online

Colorado Springs circa 1910 via GhostDepot.com

From El Paso County via The Colorado Springs Business Journal:

El Paso County is asking business owners and residents to give input for its new master plan in an online survey.

The survey covers similar ground to topics discussed at a visioning workshop held Dec. 11. Nearly 100 residents participated, and their input will be incorporated as the Planning Department finishes up the master plan development process.

Those who were unable to attend the workshop can provide feedback that will be considered as the county continues to develop the master plan.

The survey will be available through January at https://elpaso-hlplanning.hub.arcgis.com/pages/questionnaires.

The county started developing the master plan early this year, in what’s expected to be a two-year process. The Planning Department expects to begin implementing the master plan at the end of 2020.

The planning department, along with master plan consultant Houseal-Lavigne Associates, presented an Existing Conditions Report to the Board of County Commissioners at their meeting on Dec. 12.

Comprised of public input and statistical analysis, the 70-page report is a summary of current conditions in the county and a snapshot of county life as it stands today.

It covers a multitude of topics including zoning, development, transportation, water, military bases, recreation and tourism, community health and sustainability.

According to the county, the report will be instrumental as it develops the Whole County Master Plan.

“Finalizing the Existing Conditions Report is the first step toward understanding where the county is today, and it will serve as a bridge to the future,” Planning and Community Development Executive Director Craig Dossey said in a news release.

“The report gives us a strong foundation of understanding pertaining to the good, the bad and the ugly in the county, and provides a solid starting point as we move forward.”

The Planning Department urges citizens to review the report, which is available to the public on the Master Plan project website: https://elpaso.hlplanning.com/pages/documents.

“At the very least, the report gives residents a good idea of all the moving parts that are going into the master plan process,” John Houseal, principal at Houseal-Lavigne, said in a news release. “You won’t find another document with such extensive content relating to the current state of El Paso County.”