Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of precipitation data from the NRCS.
Summary: June 9, 2020
Last week, the northern portions of the Intermountain West received half an inch or more of precipitation (with high elevations even getting snow). On the 30-day timescale, standardized precipitation index (SPIs) are a mixed bag of conditions. But the longer time scales show many negative SPIs, often less than -1.5, throughout Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado, with wetter SPIs in Arizona and southern New Mexico.
Snowpack has mostly melted out for most locations and streamflows are nearing, or have past, their peak flows for the season. Dry soils are evident throughout the IMW, and VegDRI shows severe dry conditions throughout WY, UT, and CO.
In the past week, hot temperatures and high winds really picked up, greatly increasing evaporative demand. Daily reference ET at our eastern plains CoAgMET stations showed much above average anomalies over the past few days.
While this week started with some cooler, wet weather, we will have a quick return to hot and dry conditions. Temperatures on the plains will return to the 90s and there is not much precipitaiton in the 7-day forecast.
From Inside Climate News (Bob Berwyn):
The current warming trajectory could bring 100-year rainstorms as often as every 2.5 years by 2100, driving calls for improved infrastructure and planning.
New research showing how global warming intensifies extreme rainfall at the regional level could help communities better prepare for storms that in the decades ahead threaten to swamp cities and farms.
The likelihood of intense storms is rising rapidly in North America, and the study, published [June 1, 2020] in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, projects big increases in such deluges.
“The longer you have the warming, the stronger the signal gets, and the more you can separate it from random natural variability,” said co-author Megan Kirchmeier-Young, a climate scientist with Environment Canada.
Previous research showed that global warming increases the frequency of extreme rainstorms across the Northern Hemisphere, and the new study was able to find that fingerprint for extreme rain in North America.
“We’re finding that extreme precipitation has increased over North America, and we’re finding that’s consistent with what the models are showing about the influence of human-caused warming,” she said. “We have very high confidence of extreme precipitation in the future.”
At the current level of warming caused by greenhouse gases—about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit above the pre-industrial average—extreme rainstorms that in the past happened once every 20 years will occur every five years, according to the study. If the current rate of warming continues, Earth will heat up 5.4 degrees by 2100. Then, 20, 50 and 100-year extreme rainstorms could happen every 1.5 to 2.5 years, the researchers concluded.
“The changes in the return periods really stood out,” she said. “That is a key contributor to flash flooding events and it will mean that flash flooding is going to be an increasing concern as well.”
Better Science, Better Forecasts
The 2013 floods in Boulder, Colorado that killed nine people and caused more than $2 billion in property damage are a good example of how such climate studies can help improve flood forecasts, said Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.
“That was an exceptional event and the rain was like tropical rain. The radars greatly underestimated the magnitude as a result,” said Trenberth who returned to his home in Boulder during the floods with a broken foot, only to have to climb on his roof to direct the gushing water away from his house.
A subsequent study found that the rain resulted from an unusual atmospheric brew over Colorado. Mountain thunderstorms mingled with a juicy atmospheric river from the tropics, dropping up to 17 inches of rain in a few days, nearly as much as Boulder’s annual average total. Human-caused climate change “increased the magnitude of heavy northeast Colorado rainfall for the wet week in September 2013 by 30%,” the study found.
A separate study concluded that global warming actually decreased the likelihood of the 2013 floods. The conflicting results hint at the complexities of climate research, but, since then, the influence of human-caused climate change on extreme weather has become more clear.
The risks will continue to increase as the atmosphere warms, said David R. Easterling, a climate extremes researcher and director of the U.S. National Climate Assessment. “The detection has been there for a while on a lot of extreme events,” said Easterling, who was not involved in the new study. “We’re going to see increases in extreme events, and we need to be prepared.”
Easterling said most current infrastructure, such as dams and bridges, was designed based on rainfall values from the mid- to late-20th century and was not built to withstand the more frequent extreme rains identified by the new research.
“There are going to be much more damaging floods that are going to wash out a lot of the infrastructure,” he said. “You’ll see more floods and bigger floods and major impacts to our civil engineering infrastructure.”
According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicates that the percentage of total precipitation coming from intense single day events has increased significantly since about 1980, with nine of the top 10 years for extreme one-day precipitation events occurring since 1990. The EPA’s precipitation indicator website also shows similar changes at the global scale.
Warmer Air, More Moisture and Shifting Storm Tracks
One way to visualize the planet’s climate system is as a heat-driven pump that tries to balance the planet’s energy by circulating it around the globe and cycling it from oceans, to land, to the atmosphere. Global warming puts more heat into the pump and that energy is manifested elsewhere in the system. For instance, for every 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit of warming, the atmosphere holds 7 percent more moisture that can fall as extreme rain, hail or snow.
But global warming can increase rainfall by much more than 7 percent in individual events. In Hurricane Harvey, for example, the estimated boost in rainfall was about 30 percent, said Trenberth.
“The outcome depends on the kind of storm. If the rainfall is in or near the center of the storm, as for a hurricane, then the extra oomph from the latent heat release intensifies the storm and makes it bigger and longer lasting,” he said. “This can also happen for an individual thunderstorm.” He was not involved in the new study.
For storms outside the tropics, the most rain happens away from the center, which doesn’t necessarily make the rain more intense, but can affect the way the storms move and develop, he added.
“This is the atmospheric river phenomenon and requires the weather situation to remain stuck for a bit, as a river of moisture from the subtropics, like the pineapple express, pours into a region,” he said. A 2019 study showed that atmospheric rivers cause most of the flood damage in the Western United States already, and global warming is projected to intensify those events.
In addition to simply having more moisture in the atmosphere, global warming may also drive more extreme rainfall by shifting global weather patterns, said climate scientist Peter Pfleiderer, with Climate Analytics in Berlin.
In a 2019 study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, Pfleiderer and other scientists looked at how global warming changes weather patterns in ways that make heat waves, droughts or rainstorms longer or more intense. With global temperature increases of 2.7 to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (the range to which the Paris climate agreement hopes to limit warming), periods of heavy rain would increase 26 percent—the most of all the weather phenomena studied—the research found.
Friederike Otto, acting Director of the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford, said new research showing how global warming affects extreme rain regionally complements studies that identify the effect on individual events.
As a co-investigator with World Weather Attribution, Otto has been involved in a series of recent studies looking at how global warming affects droughts, heat waves and extreme rain. The strongest signal, as she expected, was with heat waves, but she expects rain events “far outside the observations so far.”
“One thing I only started to realize in the last year, is how important attribution is for making projections,” she said. Climate attribution studies show how the warming of the planet makes some extremes more likely, and intensifies other weather events. Linking measurements of what actually happens with model predictions “gives you more confidence that the changes are because of climate change,” she said.
Escalating Impacts Require Adaptation and Resilience
Floods caused by extreme rain are among the costliest climate-related disasters. A NOAA compilation of billion-dollar disasters lists a long string of deadly catastrophes caused, at least in part, by extreme rain. These include the January 2020 floods in New York, Michigan and Wisconsin, where significant damage along the shoreline of Lake Michigan was compounded by extremely high water levels in the lake, as well as a lack of seasonal ice cover.
In 2019, extreme and persistent spring rainfall in the Midwest led to one of the costliest inland flooding events on record. Floodwaters inundated millions of acres of farms, along with numerous cities and towns and Offut Air Force Base in Nebraska—the third U.S. military base to be damaged by a billion-dollar disaster in a six-month period. In all, that wave of flooding caused $10.9 billion in damage, NOAA estimated.
Earlier this month, persistent heavy rains contributed to the failure of a dam in Michigan, and Easterling said heavy rains were also implicated in the 2017 Oroville Dam failure that cost $1.1 billion and forced the evacuation of 180,000 people. The flooding caused by record rainfall from Hurricane Harvey in 2017 was a big part of the $125 billion worth of damage caused by the storm.
Extreme rain can also have an impact on a smaller scale. In mountainous areas, heavy precipitation over even a small area can be disastrous. In the Rocky Mountains, such cloudbursts have caused toxic floods of acidic water from abandoned mines, and in the European Alps, scientists say extreme rains are unleashing larger and more destructive rockfalls and landslides.
“We are going to get more intense, extreme precipitation, this is one of the things we are sure about,” said Hannah Cloke, a University of Reading natural hazards researcher and hydrologist specializing in flood forecasting.
The United Kingdom has been hit repeatedly by extreme rain in recent years, including Storm Desmond in 2015, which was linked with global warming and caused at least $550 million in damage, flooding nearly 10,000 homes and businesses. Cloke said the recent flooding has apparently even shaped her daughter’s world view. For a recent school assignment, the nine-year-old used plastic bottles to build a floating house reminiscent of the movie Waterworld.
“Most of the design standards for storm infrastructure are not high enough for the predictions, or even what we’re seeing right now,” she said. “We have to get away from the idea that you can just carry on business as usual. We have to adjust our expectations of what could happen. We need to get people out of harm’s way and be realistic about where we live.”
Cloke said the certainty of increased extreme rainfall means that communities have to adapt by creating or restoring natural areas that can soak up the rains in the uplands, and cities need to be redesigned with green roofs and other measures to prevent flood waters from piling up and destroying property. More and more, flood experts are thinking in terms of socio-hydrology, she said.
“You can’t just look at the water, at the heavier rain, and how fast it’s running down the rivers,” she said. “It’s about how humans and water interact at all levels, and how politics controls where the water is. It’s about who is at risk of flooding and whether those people have any agency to reduce the risk.”
New research like the PNAS study that shows the regional fingerprint of global warming on extreme rainfall can help reduce the risk, she said, because it enables better short-term forecasts.
“We have a lot of the right science in place but we still can’t predict the exact locations and amounts,” she said. “We don’t quite understand the development of the water cycle and we often underestimate rainfall for those reasons. But we shouldn’t be surprised that these rains are happening. We’re going to see entire cities at a standstill.”
Here’s the release from Politico/Live:
Even in these tumultuous times with significant challenges arising each day – there are some issues that continue to require our attention and effort. One of those issues is water security. Water is becoming increasingly scarce around the United States, particularly in the West. Access to safe and affordable water has become even more critical because of its role in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. In the Colorado River basin — which has a population of roughly 40 million and accounts for 15 percent of the country’s agricultural production — demand already outstrips supply. Climate change could also worsen the situation. Meanwhile, in Washington, the Trump administration is rolling back a number of Obama-era environmental rules that have implications for water quality and water quantity. As Congress tries to respond to the pandemic and rescue the U.S. economy through trillions of dollars in federal aid, there is a push to include water infrastructure improvements as part of the solution.
Join POLITICO on Monday, June 15, at 8:20 AM MT/10:20 AM ET for this virtual deep-dive panel discussion on the policies and legislation needed at the state, regional and federal levels to meet the water needs of Western states and secure long-term solutions at a time when the attention and resources of local and state leaders are consumed by the pandemic crisis.
8:20 AM MT — Opening Remarks
8:30 AM MT — A Conversation with Governor Jared Polis, Colorado
8:45 AM MT — POLITICO Editorial Panel Conversation
Governor Stephen Roe Lewis, Gila River Indian Community
Rebecca Mitchell, Director, Colorado Water Conservation Board
From the Arizona Department of Water Resources:
After 11 years of service on the Mexico-United States International Boundary and Water Commission, Roberto Salmón Castelo has stepped down from his position as Mexican Commissioner.
A graduate of the University of Arizona with a master of science degree in agricultural economics, Salmón was appointed to the position of Mexico IBWC Commissioner on April 15, 2009.
In his time with the Commission, which has the responsibility for applying the boundary and water treaties between the United States and Mexico, the two nations have taken huge steps forward in assuring that commitments to the primary binational water agreement in the Southwest – the 1944 Mexico-U.S. Water Treaty – were faithfully upheld.
“It was pleasure working with Commissioner Salmon,” said Jayne Harkins, Commissioner, United States Section, International Boundary and Water Commission.
“He was visionary and worked to find benefits to both countries on international projects. I wish him well in his future endeavors.”
Thanks to a minute to the Treaty backed by Salmón in 2010, Arizona and the other Basin States were able to participate in binational discussions on Colorado River matters. Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke observed that the personal relationships that developed from those discussions helped pave the way for future binational agreement.
“Commissioner Salmón recognized the value of personal relationships and worked to develop trust among colleagues on both sides of the border,” recalled Buschatzke.
“That work was a key component in successfully negotiating the minutes and managing the Colorado River.”
In November 2012, Salmón joined in San Diego with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and other representatives of both countries at an official signing ceremony of Minute 319 to the 1944 Treaty. The ceremony capped three years of work to reach an agreement on a set of cooperative measures for management of the Colorado River system lasting through 2017.
Commissioner Salmón observed at the time that the agreement paved the way for cooperation that can “guarantee sustainability” in the border region, particularly on future water supply for Mexican border communities.
Salmón again was on hand at the U.S. “entry into force” event in September 2017 in Santa Fe, which constituted the final flourish of the intense binational negotiations over Minute 323, the successor update to Minute 319.
Minute 323 established a program of joint cooperative actions to improve Colorado River water management through 2026.
Like Minute 319, the new Minute 323 provides for the U.S. and Mexico to share proportionately in Lower Basin shortage and surplus, and allows Mexico to create water savings in the Colorado River system in the U.S.
The updated agreement also opened up opportunities for U.S. water users to fund conservation programs in Mexico, which in turn create “Intentionally Created Surplus,” or ICS, in Lake Mead. ICS is playing an important role in helping to keep the reservoir from descending to dangerously unstable surface levels.
Salmón’s work on the Commission extended to developments that directly impacted Arizona’s capacity to express its interests in Colorado River matters.
In 2010, he participated in treaty negotiations that produced Minute 317, known as the “Conceptual Framework for U.S. Mexico Discussions on Colorado River Cooperative Actions.” It established a binational process for coordination on Colorado River matters and expressly called for Basin State participation.
Also in 2010, Salmón negotiated with his U.S. counterparts on the enactment of Minute 318, which called for the creation of deferred water deliveries to Mexico after infrastructure damage caused by the 2010 Mexicali earthquake.
Minute 318 allowed Mexico to implement a form of its own ICS, then called “deferred deliveries.” Because Mexico could not beneficially use water as a result of extensive earthquake damage, the water was saved in Lake Mead for Mexico to use in future years.
In an interview with the University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center published shortly after his appointment to the Commission in 2009, Salmón hailed the level of cooperation on water issues between the U.S. and Mexico, particularly through the IBWC.
“Although there have been rough times in the relationship, the IBWC has been able to succeed, to the beneﬁt of both countries,” he said.
“(T)here is an accumulated knowledge and methodologies developed for dealing with delicate issues that have worked in the past, and still work in the present.”
Salmón replaced Arturo Herrera who died in a plane crash in late 2008 along with his U.S. counterpart, Carlos Marin, while ﬂying over ﬂooded areas near Ojinaga, Mexico.
Salmón’s experience in water and agriculture is extensive.
Prior to assuming his position with the Commission, he served as Northwest Regional Manager of Mexico’s National Water Commission (Comisión Nacional del Agua), known as CONAGUA, and covering the state of Sonora and part of the state of Chihuahua where the Yaqui and Mayo river basins originate.
His duties with CONAGUA were sweeping. The federal institution deals with all aspects of water in Mexico. Among its many missions, CONAGUA administers water rights, and constructs, manages, operates and maintains reservoirs throughout the country. CONAGUA also manages irrigation districts and units.
The organization also is involved in the extensive negotiations occurring among the many stakeholders and interest groups in Mexico concerned with water issues – tasks that, in later years, would provide great preparation for Salmón’s duties with the Commission.
Here’s the release from Colorado State University:
Colorado residents will vote in November on a ballot initiative that calls for the proposed reintroduction of gray wolves to the state. Proposition 107, a citizen-initiated measure, would direct the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission to develop and oversee a science-based plan to restore wolves to the western part of the state.
To help ensure the public is informed on this topic, Colorado State University scientists have teamed up with Extension staff to produce and publish educational materials on the possible wolf restoration.
The resources include 12 information sheets on topics including wolf biology, wolves and livestock, disease, human and pet safety, big game and hunting, ecological effects and economics, and a robust list of frequently asked questions with answers.
“As Colorado’s only land-grant institution, CSU is uniquely positioned to provide science-based information on the subject,” said Kevin Crooks, professor in the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology and director of the new Center for Human-Carnivore Coexistence. “The educational materials have undergone extensive review by scientists within and outside CSU, including world experts on wolves.”
Crooks helped lead the development of these educational materials. The center he leads is focused on integrating science, education and outreach to minimize conflict and facilitate coexistence between people and predators.
The center’s team has developed projects in a variety of systems where human-carnivore coexistence is proving difficult. In addition to wolves, they are tracking growing conflicts with urban black bears and coyotes, polar bears in energy fields in Alaska, lions and cattle keepers in East Africa, and ranchers in systems with predators in the United States.
Wolves already spotted in Colorado
In early 2020, after the initiative was approved to be placed on the ballot, a pack of wolves was confirmed to be living in Moffat County in the northwestern part of the state. Another lone wolf was confirmed in North Park in summer 2019. These wolves likely migrated from a nearby state, perhaps Wyoming, where they were reintroduced 25 years ago.
“Science-based information provided from this team is critical to aid in policy development around wildlife and public lands,” said Ashley Stokes, associate vice president for Engagement and Extension at CSU.
Stokes said that these resources are also important for people who vote, so that they may better understand the issues surrounding potential reintroduction of wolves and the impacts on ecological systems, agricultural producers and local communities.
CSU researchers analyzing public response, media coverage
Rebecca Niemiec, assistant professor in the Department of Human Dimension of Natural Resources at CSU, recently led research studies on public perspectives and media coverage of the wolf restoration issue in Colorado.
“One thing we have found from our social science research is that the public has a diversity of beliefs about the potential positive and negative impacts of wolves,” explained Niemiec. “Some of these beliefs are supported by ecological and social science research, while some of them are not. Our hope is that with these educational materials, we can facilitate more productive, science-based discussions about wolf reintroduction and management.”
John Sanderson, who directs the Center for Collaborative Conservation at CSU, helped direct the scientific review process and worked with partners to produce the educational materials.
“The topic of wolves is uniquely contentious,” Sanderson said. “If wolves are part of Colorado’s future, we need an inclusive process of creating policy and making decisions that builds trust and identifies mutually acceptable solutions among people with different perspectives.”
Public surveys over the last few decades suggest support for wolf reintroduction from the majority of Colorado residents. Despite those survey results, restoring wolves in the state is a contentious topic that taps into diverse emotions and passions across various groups. And misinformation about wolves is widespread, on all sides of the issue.
CSU Extension has a goal to empower Coloradans and to address important and emerging community issues using science-based educational resources. The information sheets are also available to the public through Extension’s website.
Learn more about the Center for Human-Carnivore Coexistence.
The Center for Collaborative Conservation and the Center for Human-Carnivore Coexistence are part of the Warner College of Natural Resources.
Denver Water reservoirs expected to nearly fill, but higher summer water bills are on the horizon. The post Buckling up for what could be a hot, dry summer appeared first on News on TAP.