#Drought news (December 8, 2020): Across the mountain ranges of the #FourCorners states, #snowpack conditions are well below normal

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

This U.S. Drought Monitor week saw intensification of drought across parts of the western U.S. including California, Nevada, and Colorado where precipitation has been below normal since the beginning of the Water Year (Oct 1). In California, statewide snow water content (SWE) is currently at 36% of the historical average for the date (Dec 7) and Water-Year-to-Date (WYTD) precipitation (statewide) is ranging from the bottom 10% to the bottom 33% with some areas in the Mojave Desert experiencing the driest on record for the period. According to NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), the 6-month period from June to November 2020 was the hottest and driest on record for both Arizona and California. Current snowpack conditions across the West are generally reflective of a La Niña-like precipitation pattern with the mountain ranges in the Pacific Northwest and some areas of the northern Rockies observing near-normal to above-normal snowpack conditions. Further south in the Four Corners states, basin-wide (6-digit HUC) SWE is below normal in nearly all drainage basins in the region. Elsewhere on this week’s map, areas of Texas including the Panhandle and central Texas saw some minor deterioration in conditions where both long and short-term precipitation deficits exist. In the Northern Plains, unseasonably warm temperatures and dry conditions continued this week leading to intensification of drought conditions in North Dakota where statewide precipitation for the September-November 2020 period ranked 3rd driest on record, according to NOAA NCEI. In New England, drought-related conditions significantly improved in response to heavy rains and snow associated with a Nor’easter that impacted the region during the weekend. The storm delivered heavy rains and strong winds to coastal areas as well as heavy snowfall in the mountains of New Hampshire and northern Maine…

High Plains

On this week’s map, areas of the region—including southwestern North Dakota and central Nebraska—saw modest expansion in areas of Severe Drought (D2) as well as expansion in areas of Moderate Drought (D1) in southwestern North Dakota in response to a combination of factors—short-term precipitation deficits, lack of seasonal snow cover, depleted soil moisture, and unseasonably warm temperatures (12 to 20 degrees F above normal)—during the past week. In the eastern Plains of Colorado, areas of Extreme Drought (D3) and Exceptional Drought (D4) expanded where long-term precipitation deficits continued to mount…


During the past week, high pressure continued to dominate across much of the region with essentially no precipitation observed except for some light precipitation (generally <1 inch) along coastal Oregon and Washington. On the map, below-normal WYTD precipitation across California led to deterioration across the Sierra Nevada, Central Coast, southern San Joaquin Valley, and areas of Southern California and the Mojave Desert. In the mountains of California, the current statewide SWE for the date (Dec 7) is 36% of normal. Considering the regional breakdown across the state, the current percentage of normal SWE is as follows: Northern Sierra/Trinity–40%, Central Sierra–44%, and Southern Sierra–17%. According to the California Department of Water Resources, the three largest reservoirs in the state were below historical averages for the date with Shasta at 74%, Oroville at 60%, and Trinity at 79%. In the northern Great Basin, areas of Extreme Drought (D2) expanded in northeastern Nevada where snowpack conditions are below normal across the Ruby Mountains, Independence Mountains, and Jarbidge Mountains. Across the Nevada and Utah borders in southern Idaho, areas of Moderate Drought (D1) expanded where below-normal snowpack conditions are being observed in the Bear River Range and the Portneuf Range east of Pocatello, Idaho. In the Pacific Northwest, snowpack conditions at the Sub-region level (4-Digit HUC) ranged from slightly below normal (Lower Snake–78%, Upper Snake–83%, Yakima–84%, Kootenai-Pend Oreille-Spokane–87%, Oregon-Washington Coastal–90%, Upper Columbia–94%, Middle Snake–99%) to above normal (Puget Sound–101%, Willamette–115%, Middle Columbia–117%, Oregon Closed Basins–143%). Across the mountain ranges of the Four Corners states, snowpack conditions are well below normal across with the Little Colorado, Salt, Upper Gila, Rio Grande-Mimbres, Rio-Grande Elephant Butte, Upper Canadian, and Upper Pecos basins—all below ~50% of normal. According to the NRCS (Dec 1), statewide reservoir storage was below normal in Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Oregon while above-average levels were observed in Arizona, Idaho, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming (data not available for California and Montana). Looking at the last 6-month period, the Southwest (Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah) and West (California, Nevada) climate regions both experienced their hottest and driest June-November period on record, according to NOAA NCEI... South

On this week’s map, areas of drought intensified and expanded in the Panhandle and central Texas where both long and short-term precipitation shortfalls exist. In these areas, 6-month precipitation deficits ranged from 4 to 8+ inches. Conversely, above-normal precipitation during the last 30-day period led to improvements on the map in areas of Moderate Drought (D1) and Abnormally Dry (D0) along the Coastal Plain region of Texas. According to the USDA for the week of November 29, 61% of topsoil moisture in Texas was rated short to very short and 34% of the winter wheat crop was reported to be in poor to very poor condition. Elsewhere in the region, short-term dryness during the past 30-day period led to expansion of areas of Abnormally Dry (D0) across portions of Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Average temperatures for the week were well below normal (4 to 10+ degrees F) across the entire region…

Looking Ahead

The NWS WPC 7-Day Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) calls for light-to-moderate liquid accumulations ranging from 1 to 2+ inches across a swath extending from east Texas and the Lower Mississippi Valley northward to eastern portions of the Midwest. Out West, moderate-to-heavy liquid accumulations are forecast for areas extending from Northern California to western Oregon and Washington including the Olympic Mountains of Washington, Cascades of Oregon and Washington, and the central/northern Sierra. Lighter precipitation (generally <1-inch liquid) is expected across the ranges of the northern Great Basin, the Rockies, and along the Mogollon Rim and “Sky Island” mountain ranges of southeastern Arizona. In northern portions of New England and the Southeast, light precipitation accumulations (generally <1 inch of liquid) are expected. The CPC 6–10 day Outlook calls for a moderate-to-high probability of above-normal precipitation across most of the northern tier of the western U.S., Northern Plains, Upper Midwest, and the Northeast while normal temperatures are expected across much of Southwest Texas, the Midwest, the Northeast, and the Mid-Atlantic states. Conversely, there is a moderate-to-high probability of drier-than-normal conditions forecast for much of California, the central and southern Rockies, and the Southwest. Likewise, dry conditions are expected in Texas, the central and southern Plains, much of the Midwest, and Florida. In terms of temperature, there is a moderate-to-high probability of above-normal temperatures across most of the West, the Plains states, and the Northeast while below-normal temperatures are expected across the South and Southeast.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending December 8, 2020.

#Colorado activates municipal #drought response plan as 2021 water forecast darkens — @WaterEdCO

Dust clouds roll across drought-ridden fields near eastern Colorado’s Lamar in spring 2013. Credit: Jane Stulp via Water Education Colorado

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

The State of Colorado has activated the municipal portion of its emergency drought plan for only the second time in history as several cities say they need to prepare for what is almost certainly going to be a dangerously dry 2021.

Last summer, the state formally activated the agricultural portion of the plan, calling on government agencies that serve farmers and livestock producers to begin coordinating aid efforts among themselves and with growers.

Now a similar process will begin for cities, according to Megan Holcomb, who oversees the drought work for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state’s lead water policy agency.

Holcomb said the state’s decision to sound the alarm on municipal water supply came in response to requests from several cities, who believe the drought has become so severe that they need to prepare quickly for whatever 2021 may bring. Normally cities don’t make decisions about whether to impose watering restrictions until the spring, when it becomes clear how much water will melt from mountain snows and fill reservoirs.

But not this year.

“Even with an average snowpack we will still be in drought in the spring,” Holcomb said.

Colorado Springs, just last summer, enacted permanent three-days-per-week outdoor watering restrictions.

Kalsoum Abbasi oversees the city’s water delivery system and its reservoirs. She said the state’s decision to activate phase III drought planning makes sense.

“Personally I think it’s a good move for the state to move forward because it will help keep these drought conditions at the forefront of the conversation,” she said.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, the state is now blanketed in drought, with more than two-thirds of its terrain classified as being in extreme or exceptional drought, the worst condition.

Colorado has experienced four severe droughts since 2000, but the trend has intensified with the drought of 2018 barely lifting before 2020 began seeing searing temperatures and dry weather again.

Going into 2021 soils across the state are desperately dry. As mountain snows melt and runoff makes its way to streams, a large share of the moisture will be absorbed by the thirsty landscape, leaving less for reservoirs and cities to collect.

“Soil moisture is a huge part of this story,” Holcomb said. “I also think 2020 is likely the hottest year on record globally. Long-term forecasts for temperatures show January through October of next year being extremely warm again.”

Colorado is divided into eight major river basins, with the four to the west of the Continental Divide feeding the bigger Colorado River Basin, which extends from the Never Summer Mountains in Rocky Mountain National Park to the Gulf of Mexico.

Federal forecasts for this system over the next several months have been dropping sharply. Paul Miller, a hydrologist for the Colorado River Basin Forecasting Center in Salt Lake City, said the amount of water predicted to be generated by this winter’s mountain snows dropped to 5.6 million acre-feet in December, down from 6.45 million acre-feet just one month earlier.

“Even before this recent change there was cause for concern because this past year was very dry and reservoir levels fell,” Miller said.

Local city water officials such as Jerrod Biggs, deputy director of utilities in Durango, said there is little time to waste.

Durango lies in the southwest corner of the state. The region has been hardest hit by the current drought and was similarly hard hit in 2018.

“All the groundwork we can lay today is worth it. Everybody hopes it’s not needed. But sticking our heads in the sand isn’t going to do anybody any good. It’s ugly and it’s getting uglier,” Biggs said.

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

#ColoradoRiver District webinar to provide a look ahead at snow, water supply and impacts of winter weather on West Slope economy, December 16, 2020

Here’s the release from the Colorado River District:

Our snow is our water. The snow that we ski and ride becomes the water that quenches crops and communities. As winter begins, we’re all wondering what our water future holds and how will it impact us.

Join the Colorado River District at noon, Wednesday, Dec. 16, for Water With Your Lunch: Our Snow and Our Water, where we’ll hear forecasts for snowpack and water supply and discuss the economic impact of snow and water on the West Slope. Presenters will also address long-term changes that are becoming visible in Colorado’s mountain snowpack. Understanding how snowfall, water and our livelihoods are connected is vital to understanding actions we can take to protect our West Slope water and sustain our West Slope economies.

Registration is required and can be completed here: https://crwcd-org.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_ruTZQLUMQM6IAVKYOm0tOQ. If you cannot tune in to the webinar live, register to receive a recording of it in your email inbox.

Joel Gratz, founding meteorologist at Open Snow, will present how he makes forecasts and the possible impacts of a La Nina weather pattern, which can give us an idea of what the pattern of snowfall in Colorado will likely be this winter. Paul Miller, a service coordination hydrologist at the National Weather Service’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, will talk about how his agency translates snowpack measurements into water supply forecasts and how factors like soil moisture influence the water we get from snow.

Then we’ll learn more about the impact that snow – or lack of it – has on the Western Slope economy. From powder days at ski areas to flowing water for agricultural irrigation, snow and water power jobs on the West Slope. We’ll learn more about the economic value of snow in West Slope agriculture and recreation from two speakers: Todd Hagenbuch, a Colorado State Extension Agent in Routt County, and Alan Henceroth, chief operating officer at Arapahoe Basin Ski Area.

Assessing the U.S. Climate in November 2020 — @NOAA

From NOAA:

Fourth-warmest November and year-to-date for the contiguous U.S.; most active Atlantic hurricane season on record

For November, the contiguous U.S. average temperature was 46.4°F, 4.7°F above the 20th-century average, ranking fourth warmest in the November record. During meteorological autumn (September-November), the average temperature for the Lower 48 was 55.5°F, 2.0°F above average, ranking 11th warmest in the historical record. For the year to date, and with one month remaining in the calendar year, the contiguous U.S. temperature was 56.1°F, 2.3°F above the 20th-century average. This ranked fourth warmest in the January-November record. The four warmest January-November periods on record have all occurred since 2012.

The November precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. was 1.90 inches, 0.33 inch below average, ranking in the driest third of the 126-year period of record. The autumn precipitation total across the Lower 48 was 6.52 inches, 0.36 inch below average, ranking in the middle third of the historical record. The year-to-date precipitation total across the contiguous U.S. was 28.26 inches, 0.67 inch above the long-term average, also ranking in the middle third of the January-November record. This was the driest year-to-date period since 2012.

Above-average tropical activity across the Atlantic Basin continued into November as one tropical storm and two major hurricanes formed. By the end of November, and the official ending of the Atlantic hurricane season, 30 named storms formed during 2020, which breaks the 2005 record of 28 for the most storms in a single season. Category 5 Hurricane Iota formed during November and was the most intense Atlantic hurricane of the season.

This monthly summary from NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information is part of the suite of climate services NOAA provides to government, business, academia, and the public to support informed decision-making.

November Temperature

  • Above-average November temperatures were observed across most of the Lower 48. New Mexico, South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware each had their second-warmest November on record with nine additional states from the South to the Northeast ranking among their warmest five Novembers.
  • Near-average temperatures occurred across portions of the West and Northwest. No notable regions of below-average temperatures were present across the Lower 48 during November.
  • The Alaska average November temperature was 14.3°F, 2.6°F above the long-term mean, ranking in the middle third of the 96-year period of record for the state. Above-average temperatures were present across portions of the North Slope and West Coast. Below-average temperatures were observed across the Southeast Interior, Northeast Gulf and the Panhandle. Utqiaġvik (Barrow) had its third-warmest November on record.

November Precipitation

  • A trough of low pressure in the middle of November contributed to above-average precipitation across portions of the Northwest, central Plains, western Great Lakes, Southeast and mid-Atlantic states.
  • Precipitation received from Tropical Storm Eta helped North Carolina rank 10th wettest for November.
  • Below-average precipitation occurred across parts of the West, northern Rockies, much of the northern Plains and from portions of the South to the Northeast. North Dakota ranked 11th driest for the month.
  • In Alaska, statewide precipitation ranked in the wettest third of the historical record. Above-average precipitation occurred across portions of the North Slope, West Coast, Bristol Bay, Northeast Interior and South Panhandle regions. Precipitation across the rest of the state was near average for the month.
  • According to the December 1 U.S. Drought Monitor report, approximately 48 percent of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, up nearly 3 percent from the beginning of November. Drought conditions expanded or intensified across portions of the northern and central Plains, Deep South and much of the West. Drought severity and/or extent lessened across much of New England and Hawaii and parts of the Pacific Northwest.

November Extremes

  • Through November 30, and the official end of the Atlantic hurricane season, several records were tied or broken.
    • Thirty named storms formed in the Atlantic, which breaks the previous record of 27 set in 2005. The 13 hurricanes and 6 major hurricanes in 2020 are both the second most on record behind 2005 (15 and 7, respectively).
    • Twelve named U.S. storm continental landfalls occurred during 2020. This tops the 11 landfalls set through October 31 and breaks the previous annual record of nine landfalls set in 1916.
    • Six hurricanes made U.S. landfall, tying 1886 and 1985 for the most U.S. hurricane landfalls in a single season.
  • Category 4 Hurricane Eta made landfall near Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, on November 3 with winds of 140 mph. Eta weakened over land and eventually re-emerged into the Caribbean, making landfall in Cuba and eventually on the Lower Matecumbe Key in Florida as a tropical storm.
  • Only two weeks after Eta’s landfall, category 5 Hurricane Iota reached peak intensity of 160 mph before weakening and making landfall along the northeast coast of Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane on November 16 and only 15 miles south of the location of Eta’s landfall. This was the first November on record to have two major Atlantic hurricanes.
    • Iota was the only Category 5 storm during 2020, the strongest hurricane of the season and only the second Category 5 storm on record to form during November. The Cuba Hurricane of 1932 made landfall on November 8 and had 175 mph peak winds.
    • Hurricane Iota was the second-strongest November hurricane on record for the Atlantic and was the strongest Atlantic hurricane on record to occur so late in the calendar year.
    • This was a record fifth consecutive year with at least one Category 5 storm in the Atlantic.
  • Five Category 4 and 5 storms formed in the Atlantic during 2020, tying with 1933, 1961, 1999 and 2005 for the record.

Autumn (September-November) Temperature

  • Above-average autumn temperatures spanned much of the West and from the Deep South to New England. California and Florida ranked warmest on record.
  • Near-average temperatures for autumn were observed across much of the northern and central Plains as well as the western Great Lakes.
  • The Alaska statewide average temperature for autumn was 28.4°F, 2.5°F above average, ranking in the warmest third of the historical record. Northern and western portions of the state had above-average temperatures while portions of the Panhandle had temperatures that were below average for the season. In large part due to the loss and thinning of sea ice along Alaska’s northern coast, Utqiaġvik had its fourth-warmest autumn on record.

Autumn (September-November) Precipitation

  • Above-average precipitation was observed across the Southeast and mid-Atlantic as well as portions of the Northwest, South, Ohio Valley and Great Lakes. Virginia ranked fourth wettest on record.
  • Below-average precipitation was observed across much of the West, the northern and central Plains and across parts of the Northeast. Utah and Arizona ranked driest on record for autumn with three additional states in the West and northern Plains ranking among their driest five autumns on record.
  • Precipitation across Alaska during autumn ranked in the driest third of the historical record. Above-average precipitation occurred across portions of the North Slope, Northeast Interior and Bristol Bay regions while the Northeast Gulf and Panhandle regions had below-average precipitation for the season.

Year-to-date (January-November) Temperature

  • Above-average year-to-date temperatures were observed across much of the Lower 48 with Florida, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Rhode Island ranking warmest on record.
  • Near-average temperatures were observed in pockets across the northern Rockies, northern Plains as well as the southern Plains.
  • It was the coolest January-November across Alaska since 2012. Year-to-date statewide temperatures ranked near average in Alaska with above-average temperatures observed across the northern and western portions of the state. Below-average temperatures were present across portions of the interior regions.

Year-to-date (January-November) Precipitation

  • Above-average January-November precipitation occurred in parts of the Northwest, Great Lakes and from the southern Plains to the mid-Atlantic. North Carolina ranked wettest on record while Virginia ranked third wettest for this 11-month period.
  • Below-average precipitation occurred across much of the West, northern Plains and the Northeast. Utah ranked driest on record while six additional western states ranked among their driest five January-November periods.
  • January-November precipitation in Alaska was above average across the interior regions, Bristol Bay and portions of the Panhandle. Drier-than-average conditions were present across the Aleutians as well as the central Gulf and northwest Panhandle.

Wall Street Begins Trading Water Futures as a Commodity — Yale 360

Fields in California’s Central Valley agricultural region. Photo credit: California department of food and agriculture via Yale 360

From Yale 360:

Wall Street has begun trading water as a commodity, like gold or oil. The country’s first water market launched on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange this week with $1.1 billion in contracts tied to water prices in California, Bloomberg News reported.

The market allows farmers, hedge funds, and municipalities to hedge bets on the future price of water and water availability in the American West. The new trading scheme was announced in September, prompted by the region’s worsening heat, drought, and wildfires fueled by climate change. There were two trades when the market went live Monday.

“Climate change, droughts, population growth, and pollution are likely to make water scarcity issues and pricing a hot topic for years to come,” RBC Capital Markets managing director and analyst Deane Dray told Bloomberg. “We are definitely going to watch how this new water futures contract develops.”

Proponents argue the new market will clear up some of the uncertainty around water prices for farmers and municipalities, helping them budget for the resource. But some experts say treating water as a tradable commodity puts a basic human right into the hands of financial institutions and investors, a dangerous arrangement as climate change alters precipitation patterns and increases water scarcity.

“What this represents is a cynical attempt at setting up what’s almost like a betting casino so some people can make money from others suffering,” Basav Sen, climate justice project director at the Institute for Policy Studies, told Earther. “My first reaction when I saw this was horror, but we’ve also seen this coming for quite some time.”