#Drought news (January 23, 2021): Half of U.S. is in trouble as drought conditions persist, experts say — The #FortMorgan Times

US Drought Monitor January 19, 2021.

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Jeff Rice):

Drought conditions in Colorado and across the western United States aren’t expected to improve much, if any, in the coming year, prompting state and federal agencies to launch new efforts to help agricultural producers survive the growing drought problem.

Retta Brugger, Colorado State University range extension specialist, and Julie Elliott, a USDA rangeland management specialist, issued a bulletin earlier this week warning ranchers that they may want to lower their stocking on rangeland. The scientists cited a matrix of data called a “decision tree” that shows climate conditions are poised to continue the drought at least through the spring…

Colorado Drought Monitor January 19, 2021.

On Thursday morning the U.S. Drought Monitor showed serious to severe conditions are to persist across Colorado for the foreseeable future. In map after map and graph after graph, climatologists and forecasters show lower levels of precipitation, inadequate snowpack and rising temperatures. The Drought Monitor is produced through a partnership among the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska‐Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

High Plains Drought Monitor January 19, 2021.

In the Midwest and High Plains sectors, which includes eastern Colorado up to the Foothills, little or no precipitation fell this week, outside parts of eastern North Dakota. Almost the entire region was unchanged compared to last week keeping most areas intact. Exceptions were found in eastern North Dakota, where light precipitation was sufficient to reduce the extent of drought conditions. Farther west, small areas of deterioration were noted in north-central Wyoming and the west-central Dakotas.

According to Brad Rippey, USDA meteorologist, around 46 percwent of the U.S. is experiencing moderate drought or worse. The seasonal drought outlook calls for continued dry conditions for nearly the entire western half of the U.S…

Meanwhile, state and federal officials are offering guidance, especially to agricultural producers, on how to survive the drought. In Colorado farmers and ranchers throughout the state can call or text (970) 988-0043 or email droughtadvisors@colostate.edu to be connected to resources and a team to help address short and long-term drought conditions.

Colorado State University will offer a two-hour “Planning for Drought” presentation in early February.

Scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. on Feb. 2, the program will include presentations from legal, technical and planning professionals as well as grower-led drought preparation discussions and networking.

To participate, RSVP to droughtadvisors@coloradostate.edu.

The program is in partnership with CSU Extension, Agricultural Experiment stations, Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Colorado Ag Water Alliance and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Upper #ColoradoRiver #Drought Plan Triggered For First Time — KUNC #COriver #aridification

Colorado River “Beginnings”. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

Increasingly bleak forecasts for the Colorado River have for the first time put into action elements of the 2019 upper basin drought contingency plan.

The 24-month study released in January by the Bureau of Reclamation, which projects two years of operations at the river’s biggest reservoirs, showed Lake Powell possibly dipping below an elevation of 3,525 feet above sea level in 2022. That elevation was designated as a critical threshold in the agreement to preserve the ability to produce hydropower at Glen Canyon Dam.

In a letter to water officials in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming, the Bureau of Reclamation’s Wayne Pullan and Jacklynn Gould said the “minimum probable” forecast triggers “enhanced monitoring and coordination,” and instructed states to identify point persons to take part in monthly planning calls. Those meetings have yet to be scheduled.

“It’s really about giving people an advanced warning,” said Eric Kuhn, former general manager of the Colorado River District, and one of the architects of the 2019 plan.

The forecast in question is called the “minimum probable” forecast, one of the more pessimistic possible futures on the river that supplies water to 40 million people across seven U.S. states and two in Mexico. But the model makes clear it’s plausible that Lake Powell could see rapid declines within the next two years, Kuhn said, and water managers need to consider all possible scenarios and plan for them.

“We need a cushion, and time to react,” Kuhn said. “So the 3,525 (elevation) was put in as a way to give everyone time to think about what’s happening.”

If federal models show the reservoir’s elevation declining past that threshold under the “most probable” forecast, smaller reservoirs upstream in the four Upper Basin states could release water to prop up Lake Powell. The models don’t show that scenario as the likeliest to occur yet…

Current Colorado Basin RFC drought monitor January 19, 2021.

As exceptional drought conditions expanded to more than 65% of the watershed’s total land area in 2020, operational forecasts for the Colorado River have worsened dramatically. Between Oct. and Nov. 2020, Bureau of Reclamation models projected a possible one million acre-foot drop in Lake Powell’s water storage due to lagging snowpack totals and record-setting soil moisture deficits.

“That was the first glimmer we could be looking at this way earlier than we expected,” said Amy Haas, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission.

The drought contingency plans place much of the authority to direct the response in the Department of Interior Secretary. While Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico has been nominated for the post, the position is currently vacant. So too is the position of Bureau of Reclamation commissioner, which means much of the drought response coordination is happening at the regional director level, something the drought contingency plans allowed for, Haas said.

#Snowpack news (January 22, 2021): Ullr you are falling behind

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of snowpack data from the NRCS.

From Colorado Public Radio (Michael Elizabeth Sakas):

Colorado is about halfway through its season for snowpack accumulation, and the numbers don’t look great.

According to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the statewide snowpack is at about 73 percent of normal.

“That’s the fourth lowest snowpack that we’ve measured for this date in the past 36 years,” said Brian Domonkos, the supervisor of the NRCS Colorado Snow Survey.

Domonkos said that vigilance means keeping an eye on streamflow forecasts and “being prepared that we could have below-average streamflow runoff and water supply conditions.”

Colorado continues to be in a bad drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Nearly three-quarters of the state is experiencing extreme conditions, the second-highest level.

One bright spot, Domonkos said, is that the snowpack in the Upper Rio Grande River basin is doing relatively well at 92 percent of normal…

On the other hand, the Upper Colorado River basin is one area that’s falling well short of average, with its snowpack at 68 percent of normal…

There’s still a chance that things can turn around this season. But he said the current outlooks show that’s unlikely.

Westwide SNOTEL basin-filled map January 22, 2021 via the NRCS.

From CBS Denver (Chris Spears):

Colorado is facing a very uncertain spring and summer when it comes to water thanks to a widespread drought that developed last year. According to NOAA’s National Center for Environmental Information 2020 was the second driest year on record in the state since 1895. The driest year in Colorado’s recorded weather history was 2002…

Many times we’ll see a few dry months where drought develops, but it is often in just a portion of the state, or it will be followed by a wet period that either resolves things or at least keeps the drought from getting worse. But in recent history we find ourselves getting into longer periods of dryness where drought becomes widespread and reaches extreme to exceptional levels. The years 2002, 2012 and 2013 come to mind, in addition to other shorter bouts of widespread drought in years such as 2006, 2018 and 2019…

It hasn’t been this dry in Colorado since the record drought year of 2002, which was abruptly ended when a historic blizzard slammed the region in March 2003. The storm was one of the worst since state weather records started in 1872.

My kids and their friends built a small terrain park in front of their house near Sloans Lake after the March 2003 St. Patrick’s Day blizzard.

The multi-day storm dropped up to 3 feet of snow around metro Denver with more than 7 feet in the adjacent foothills. Strong northerly winds produced drifts in Denver up to 6 feet tall. Widespread damage was reported to trees, roofs and powerlines because the snow was so heavy and wet…

It’s hard to know what this year will bring but it is clear we need something to change with the current weather pattern to ensure we do not fall into a more dire situation when it comes to water storage and supply. In the short term the outlook isn’t the best since the planet is currently in a La Niña weather pattern, which is an abnormal cooling of the sea surface waters in the eastern part of the Pacific Ocean along the equator.

From The Denver Post (Ben Reppert):

Aside from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains cashing in on a beneficial storm track in southern Colorado, the rest of the state has been far below normal.

This has driven the statewide snowpack to its slowest start since 2018. It is also getting uncomfortably close to the minimum set in 2002.

Much of central and western Colorado has seen less than 25% of the typical month-to-date precipitation. In many mountain areas, this equates to several feet of snow that have been missing this month, and a snowpack that has largely flatlined.

Statewide snowpack currently sits around 73% of the long-term average. The current value is also getting inflated by the Upper Rio Grande river basin. This area roughly bound by an Alamosa-Salida-Silverton triangle is running close to normal when it comes to snowpack. Most of the other regions across the state are now less than 70% of normal…

Peak snowpack typically gets reached during the first week of April. By mid-April, the spring melt tends to ramp up quickly.

Given the current numbers, Colorado needs at least 133% of average snowfall for the rest of the season to reach a normal early April peak.

In the Denver area, this snow-starved January is not as much of a rarity. January is one of the driest months of the year for the Interstate 25 corridor and the Plains. A widespread snow event early in the month was enough to keep January precipitation more respectable in eastern Colorado, when compared to normal.