Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.
And, here’s the Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map for April 23, 2020 via the NRCS.
Click on a thumbnail graphic 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 very active precipitation pattern impacted areas of the South into the Southeast over the last week. As with the recent storm paths, the areas along the Gulf Coast were again in an unfavorable position in which some areas did see rains, but the dryness continued. A spring snow event tracked through the Plains and into the Midwest, bringing with it a mix of rain and snow. Temperatures were cooler than normal over almost the entire CONUS region with only the coastal regions of the West and Florida being above normal for temperatures. Departures were greatest over the Midwest, where temperatures were 12-15 degrees below normal…
The region was also cooler than normal for the week, with departures of 8-12 degrees below normal over most of the region. The region was mostly dry for the week, with only areas of eastern Kansas and southeast Wyoming above normal. Similar to what has been observed in the Midwest, the dry conditions have been favorable for early fieldwork in the agricultural sector as well as calving. There have been many discussions about the dryness in northern Kansas and southern Nebraska, but so far, no real issues are developing. Eastern Colorado and southwest Kansas remain the hot spots for drought. New areas of abnormally dry conditions were introduced over most of western North Dakota into northwest South Dakota this week. Northeast South Dakota also had a pocket of abnormally dry conditions introduced. A new area of abnormally dry conditions was introduced in portions of northern Kansas and southern Kansas. The dry areas are being discussed extensively by the local experts, who are monitoring the situation closely…
Cooler than normal temperatures dominated the region, with departures of 9-12 degrees below normal over the Rocky Mountains and 3-6 degrees below normal over the Southwest and into the Great Basin. Temperatures were near normal to 3-6 degrees above normal over most of California, Oregon, and Washington. Some pockets of precipitation in the region were observed, but this was mostly a dry week over much of the area. In response to the continued dryness, a new area of extreme drought was introduced this week in northern California and southwest Oregon. These areas are experiencing widespread impacts to the agricultural sector as well as those systems not impacted by or benefiting from stored water. Drought areas expanded in and intensified over much of Oregon while abnormally dry conditions expanded over western Washington. Due to the good late-season snowpack in Idaho and western Montana, some areas of abnormally dry conditions were improved this week. Southern Idaho showed degradation this week with drought areas expanding and abnormally dry conditions spreading into southwest portions of the state. Far northeast Montana did see abnormally dry conditions spread south this week. A new area of severe drought was introduced into central Utah with an expansion of moderate drought conditions as well, while severe drought was expanded over most of southern Colorado and into northern New Mexico…
Much of the region was dry, especially in portions of Texas and Oklahoma and southern Louisiana. The big exception was Mississippi, central Louisiana, and into east Texas where up to 400% of normal precipitation was again recorded this week. Cooler than normal temperatures helped to offset the dryness as most areas were 6-12 degrees below normal for the week. In response to the short-term dryness, abnormally dry conditions and moderate drought were expanded over portions of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles with a couple of new pockets of abnormally dry conditions in western Oklahoma into Texas. The abnormally dry conditions were expanded over west Texas while a reassessment of conditions in south Texas led to improvements and the removal of exceptional drought in the region. Mostly status quo was maintained along the Gulf Coast of Texas, where some improvements were made, but a new severe drought pocket popped up along the coast. Improvements were made to the abnormally dry conditions in Louisiana and Mississippi in response to the rain, and even some severe drought was improved in southern Louisiana. The coastal regions remain dry and will continue to be monitored…
Active storm pattern, with the greatest precipitation expected over the Lower Mississippi Valley, into the Ohio River Valley and into the Southeast, including Florida. Some coastal precipitation is expected over portions of Washington and into Oregon, but most of the rest of the West is not anticipating much precipitation. Temperatures during this time will be cooler than normal over the East and especially the Northeast, where departures will be in the range of 9-12 degrees below normal. The West and Southwest are anticipated to be the warmest with departures of 9-12 degrees above normal.
The 6-10 day outlooks show a higher probability of drier than normal conditions over much of the West and into the Plains and Southeast as well as Alaska. In contrast, there is a higher probability of wetter than normal conditions over the Midwest and Northeast. Temperatures during this time show that the greatest probability of warmer than normal temperatures is over the Southwest with much of the western half of the United States having a greater likelihood of warmer than normal temperatures. Much of the Midwest, the Northeast, the Mid-Atlantic and eastern Alaska have the best chances of recording below-normal temperatures, with the highest probabilities in the Northeast.
Summary: April 21, 2020
Cooler temperatures dominated the Intermountain West (IMW) last week. But only the northern portions of the IMW benefited from moisture with the cooler temperatures. The northern ranges of Colorado and Utah received over half an inch of moisture. The Front Range urban corridor got a healthy shot of spring snows.
In the Four Corners, despite some colder temperatures, snowmelt has kicked into high gear. It’s melting faster and earlier than normal. And with not much precipitation in April, water supply forecasts for the late spring and summer are quickly declining.
The Four Corners, east across the San Luis Valley and Upper Rio Grande, and across the eastern plains of Colorado and New Mexico are areas of concern. A poor performing monsoon, with lack of decent moisture for winter wheat planting, a struggle to keep up with average during the winter, and a shut-off of precipitation during the spring, SPIs across many time scales are below -1.5, winds are kicking up dust and increasing fire danger, failed winter wheat crops are certain, and extra feed needs to be purchased for cattle.
For the northern watersheds of the IMW, snowpack is following a more steady timeline as new snows have accumulated. Water supplies are forecasted to be near or slightly below normal
While some precipitation moves across southern CO and northeast NM today, they are not expected to get much more moisture this week. It will do little to help conditions there. Only minor amounts of precipitation are expected over the northern part of the IMW this week. Mostly dry and warm conditions will dominate over the next couple of weeks.
From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):
The final BLM plan for managing multiple uses on federal land in the Uncompahgre Plateau unveiled earlier this month did not limit oil and gas development in the North Fork Valley.
For nearly a decade, a group of farmers in the North Fork Valley joined with local tourism businesses and conservation groups to craft a resource management plan that could help the Bureau of Land Management shepherd the multiple uses of the valley’s public lands for the next 20 years.
More than 600 mining jobs disappeared in that decade of planning as the coal industry contracted and mines closed. Entrepreneurs in the lush communities around Paonia and Hotchkiss helped diversify the local economy from reliance on a single, extractive industry to an eclectic mix of organic agritourism and outdoor recreation.
The group’s North Fork Alternative Plan proposed energy development on 25% of the valley’s public lands, with increased protections for water and recreational attractions in the region.
“We put a lot of effort into negotiating with the BLM with what we thought was a pretty constructive way to share our values and how they should consider those values in managing the lands here,” said Mark Waltermire, whose Thistle Whistle farm is among 140 members in the North Fork’s Valley Organic Growers Association.
The final BLM plan for managing multiple uses on federal land in the Uncompahgre Plateau unveiled earlier this month did not limit oil and gas development in the North Fork Valley. And it did not weigh the state’s concerns over energy projects injuring wildlife, habitat and air quality. But as the first resource management plan released under the Trump Administration, it did represent the president’s pivot toward “energy dominance” by reducing regulations and greenlighting exponentially more coal mining.
“I feel betrayed by the system,” said Waltermire this week after spending the day fixing a tractor on his Delta County farm. “Most definitely this is a step backward. Really it’s even worse. We have lived with coal for 100 years and coal has proven to be compatible with the agriculture we practice here. But gas and the oil development is a different beast. It is a much more substantial threat to our economy, with increased traffic and the potential for spills. That could destroy our reputation that we have built for our valley. It could change everything.”
Earlier this month the agency released the final plan for managing the vast swath of the Western Slope, which is an update to the region’s 1989 RMP. Many of the wildlife, habitat and environment-focused objections to the Trump Administration’s “energy dominance” push to loosen regulations around domestic energy production — including those from Gov. Jared Polis, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, county commissioners, conservation groups and local residents — were dismissed.
As Colorado’s local BLM officials honed the preferred alternative — Alternative D — for the RMP last fall, the agency’s higher-ups crafted a new alternative. Alternative E identified energy and mineral development as key planning issues, and promoted access and a reduced regulatory burden alongside economic development as top priorities.
The BLM said the RMP would contribute $2.5 billion in economic activity into the region and support 950 jobs a year for the next 20 years.
The Alternative E plan:
Increased coal available for leasing by 189%, to 371,250 acres from 144,790 acres. Added 13,020 acres to the region’s 840,440 acres open for mineral development. Removed more than 30,000 [acres] from development in areas previously identified for leasing. Cut acres the BLM could sell from 9,850 to 1,930. Added six special recreation management areas and three extensive recreation management areas, setting aside 186,920 acres for recreation management.
The final draft of the proposed RMP conflicted with new state laws protecting wildlife, recreation access and improving air quality, so Polis last year sent a letter to the BLM’s Colorado director expressing his concerns as part of a consistency review that makes sure the agency’s plan aligned with state policies.
Specifically the state wanted the agency to limit the density of development — including oil and gas facilities — to one structure for every square mile to help protect wildlife corridors. It also asked the agency to develop a comprehensive plan to protect and conserve the Gunnison sage grouse and its habitat. Polis noted that the BLM plan allowed an increase in greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas development that conflicted with last year’s House Bill 1261, which aims to cut those emissions by 90%. The BLM plan also conflicted with Senate Bill 181, which allows the state to consider public health and the environment when regulating oil and gas development.
The BLM’s final plan released this month did not include the state’s push for limiting the density of development or creating a region-wide wildlife and sage grouse conservation plan. But it did agree to protect 33,000 acres of riparian habitat from surface development and initiate a future statewide planning effort to study density on BLM land. The agency also agreed to coordinate with the state over potential development in sage grouse habitat.
“Our issue is that we worked on the preferred alternative, Alternative D and we sent that to Washington for approval. Alternative E was never contemplated and that’s what came back from D.C. We were not able to weigh in on that option,” said Department of Natural Resources director Dan Gibbs, who joined Polis in the only process available for commenting on the final proposal: a protest letter to the BLM over its proposed RMP.
Gibbs said he was happy the agency heard a portion of the state’s protests and the final decision included plans to work more closely with the state on a border-to-border plan for limiting development density…
The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility group uncovered a BLM document summarizing an October 2018 meeting where the agency’s Washington D.C. leaders told Uncompahgre Field Office managers that their preferred alternative “misses the mark” and was “not in line with the administration’s direction to decrease the regulatory burden and increase access.”
San Miguel County, for example, asked the BLM to expand areas of critical concerns in the San Miguel River watershed and remove those riparian areas from mineral leasing. The final plan reduced the size of those areas and kept them open for mineral leasing. Montrose County asked for some areas inside Camelback, Dry Creek and Roc Creek to be managed for wilderness protection, but the final plan did not set aside any land in the county for wilderness protection.
San Miguel County commissioner Hilary Cooper said that while the plan is slightly improved by the promise to work with Parks and Wildlife on a density-limiting plan, “it still feels like the BLM is not a willing partner in the management of our land.”
Colorado’s U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, also sent a letter to the BLM and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt last fall, urging the agency to “reengage with local stakeholders” before moving forward with its new Alternative E.
This month he blasted the plan as “completely inadequate.”
“You see what happened today?” he said this week, after the price of a barrel of oil collapsed to below $0 for the first time as a stalled nation sits at home and oil stockpiles swell.
“That is really good news. I bet they are not going to look to develop new rigs for 10 years now,” Schwartz said. “We seem to have bought ourselves some time. Gas and oil are looking to survive right now. And if they look to fracking in our valley, they know we will fight them tooth and nail every step of the way. They don’t want that.
“And really, who knows what will happen in the future,” he said. “We will have a new administration in a year or four years and this whole thing could change. Either way, we are coming out the end of this solid and safe.”
As sociologists with a specialty in agriculture and food, we study how the structure of the food system affects people’s lives and the environment. Seeing food destroyed at a time when people are going hungry highlights both short- and long-term problems with this system.
Surprisingly, the supply chain for food bears a striking similarity to that of another product that has experienced shortages: toilet paper.
Like the toilet paper market, the food industry has two separate supply chains for consumer and commercial use. On the consumer side are grocery and convenience stores that focus on small purchases. The commercial side represents restaurants and institutions such as schools, prisons, hospitals and corporate cafeterias that purchase large quantities of foods in bulk. Ultimately, commercial institutions purchase in sizes that exceed the storage capacity of most households and food pantries.
While the commercial and the consumer supply chains are different, there are some commonalities: Both are complex, cover long distances and rely on just-in-time production. Both are also increasingly concentrated, meaning that there are only a few companies between farmers and consumers that process and distribute raw agricultural goods into edible food. For example, on the commercial side, Sysco and U.S. Foods control an estimated 75% of the market for food distribution.
These characteristics make the supply chains more vulnerable to disruptions.
In 2018, over half of all U.S. spending on food was on the commercial side of the supply chain. The introduction of social distancing measures in March forced schools, corporate cafeterias and many restaurants to close. As a result, a lot of food intended for commercial use no longer had a buyer.
To understand why this food can’t readily be diverted to consumers, let’s take a closer look at the supply chains for meat, vegetables and milk. With each category, there are different reasons.
Vegetable farmers, for example, have a lot of crops growing in their fields intended for commercial buyers like schools, restaurants and cruise lines, which are no longer purchasing these products.
So a combination of plunging commercial demand, not enough low-wage yet skilled laborers, falling prices and a short window in which to pick vegetables means it has become cheaper to simply let them rot in the fields.
As for meat, restaurants typically order larger cuts and use more of the pricier parts like tenderloins. In contrast, much of the meat purchased on the consumer side is sold in “case-ready” packages, and ground beef is far more common.
So in general, commercial buyers tend to buy parts of the cow or pig that consumers simply don’t prepare at home. But what’s more, meat plant closures due to COVID-19 outbreaks are creating a bottleneck for slaughtering and processing animals, which also have a short window before they’re past their prime. As a result, producers, particularly pork farmers, are debating whether to feed and care for their animals past their prime or simply euthanize them.
Milk is even more complicated when it comes to how it flows along the food chain.
First, there’s no stopping cows giving milk; udders that are full must be emptied daily. The only question is where that milk will go.
With many of these customers closed or cutting their purchases, there’s lots of excess milk. Unfortunately, processors do not have the equipment to package that milk into smaller containers for grocery stories and retail use.
As for converting more milk into dairy products with longer shelf lives like cheese, there was already a glut of mozzarella and other cheese plugging up cold storage space. And despite a rise in takeout pizza, overall demand for cheese has “dropped like a rock,” according to trade industry sources.
That has left dairy farmers with little choice but to dump excess milk into manure ponds and ditches.
Many states are working on short-term solutions to bridge the gap between the two supply chains.
Nebraska is temporarily allowing restaurants to sell unlabeled packaged foods to customers, Texas is pushing restaurants to prepare food care packages for at-risk families, and many other states have changed their health regulations to allow restaurants to repackage products into smaller quantities to sell to the public.
In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to begin purchasing US$3 billion in fresh produce, dairy and meat to support farmers and eventually distribute it to food pantries and other organizations feeding Americans in need.
Although helpful in the short term, we believe a longer-term problem that needs to be addressed is how concentrated food supply chains have become, which has made them less nimble in adapting to disruptions like a health pandemic.
Elizabeth Ransom, Associate Professor of International Affairs & Senior Research Associate Rock Ethics Institute, Pennsylvania State University; E. Melanie DuPuis, Professor and Chair, Environmental Studies and Science, Pace University , and Michelle R. Worosz, Professor of Rural Sociology, Auburn University