Click here to read the discussion and for the figures:
CLIMATE PREDICTION CENTER/NCEP/NWS
and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society 12 August 2021
ENSO Alert System Status: La Niña Watch
Synopsis: ENSO-neutral is favored for the remainder of summer (~60% chance in the July- September season), with La Niña possibly emerging during the August-October season and lasting through the 2021-22 winter (~70% chance during November-January).
Recently, sea surface temperatures (SSTs) were near-to-below average in the central and east- central equatorial Pacific, with above-average SSTs in the far eastern Pacific. In the last week, most Niño indices were slightly negative (-0.2oC to -0.3oC) except for the Niño-1+2 index, which was +0.7oC. Subsurface temperatures cooled considerably in July, becoming quite negative (averaged from 180-100oW, reflecting the emergence of below-average subsurface temperatures east of the DateLine. Low- level wind anomalies were easterly over the east-central Pacific Ocean, while upper-level wind anomalies were westerly across the eastern Pacific. Tropical convection was suppressed over the western Pacific Ocean and enhanced over a small region near Indonesia. Given the surface conditions, the ocean-atmosphere system reflected ENSO-neutral.
Compared to last month, forecasts from the IRI/CPC plume are generally cooler in the Niño-3.4 SST region during the fall and winter 2021-22. Recent model runs from the NCEPCFSv2 and the North American Multi-Model Ensemble suggest the onset of a weak La Niña in the coming months, persisting through winter 2021-22. The forecaster consensus continues to favor these models, which is also supported by the noticeable decrease in the observed subsurface temperature anomalies this past month. In summary,ENSO-neutral is favored for the remainder of summer(~60% chance in the July-September season), with La Niña possibly emerging during the August-October season and lasting through the 2021-22 winter (~70% chance during November-January; click CPC/IRI consensus forecast for the chances in each 3-month period).
I keep hearing Klaus Wolter’s warning from 2011, “Beware a second year La Niña.”
Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.
US Drought Monitor map August 10, 2021.
High Plains Drought Monitor map August 10, 2021.
West Drought Monitor map August 10, 2021.
Colorado Drought Monitor map August 10, 2021.
Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:
This Week’s Drought Summary
Monsoonal moisture was squelched this week, in contrast to the heavy rainfall that had been pelting the southern Rockies and – to a lesser extent – much of the interior West. Totals between 1 and 2 inches were limited to a few patches in southeastern Arizona, central and south-central New Mexico, and scattered higher elevations in central Colorado and central Montana. West of the Plains, only part of northwestern Montana and northwestern Washington saw fairly widespread amounts of 1.5 to locally 3.0 inches. Farther east, significant rainfall evaded most areas of dryness and drought from the Plains to the Atlantic Seaboard, with a few dramatic exceptions. Most of interior Wisconsin recorded 2 to 5 inches of rainfall from north of Milwaukee into far southeastern Minnesota. Moderate to heavy rains were not as widespread elsewhere, with amounts exceeding an inch covering relatively small areas. The scattered areas of heavy rain included northeastern and part of southern North Dakota, northeastern South Dakota, a few areas from central Minnesota southward into central Iowa and southeastern Nebraska. Similarly, widely-scattered areas of 1 to locally 3 inches dotted the Midwest, lower Ohio Valley, central and southern Appalachians, and northern New England. But most of these regions recorded light precipitation, and other areas of dryness and drought across the contiguous states saw little or no precipitation. As a result, dry areas in the western Great Lakes region experienced significant improvement, but otherwise improvement was limited to relatively small, scattered areas where the heavy rains fell. Increased drought coverage and intensity was more common, as a large majority of these areas recorded light precipitation at best. Crops have been damaged by the lack of precipitation, with spring wheat and barley most significantly impacted. In primary producing states, 46 percent of the barley crop was in poor or very poor condition, compared to only 4 percent at this time last year. Similarly, about 60 percent of spring wheat in the primary producing states was in poor or very poor condition, compared to 7 percent at this time last year…
Similar to some other regions, small scattered areas of heavy rain induced localized improvement, but most areas received little rainfall at best, leading to increasing moisture deficits and thus expansion and intensification of dryness and drought. Some improvement was noted in southwestern North Dakota, but much broader areas of deterioration were observed across eastern North Dakota and many areas from South Dakota through Nebraska and Kansas. Drought intensities of D3 and D4 now cover large portions of the Dakotas. Limited precipitation fell on Colorado and Wyoming, but decreased impacts and localized moderate rains led to 1-category improvements in central Colorado and southwestern Wyoming…
Little or no precipitation fell on most of the region, and drought intensity remained unchanged from last week in most areas. Some improvement from recent monsoonal rains were introduced in southern Utah while conditions deteriorated in central Washington and a few isolated patches in northern Utah, western California, and northern Oregon. Crops in Washington have suffered because of the drought, with 93 percent of their spring wheat and 66 percent of barley in poor or very poor conditions. The dryness, exacerbated by periods of intense heat, has led to the rapid development and expansion of wildfires. The Dixie Fire in northern California has scorched hundreds of thousands of acres, making it the second-largest fire in the state’s history. Fires in the western half of the contiguous states (including Colorado and Wyoming) have burned, on average, 30 square miles of total area every day since early June – an area approaching half the size of Washington, DC…
Areas of dryness and drought remained restricted to a few relatively small areas, but coverage increased from last week, and surface moisture depletion was exacerbated by abnormally hot weather. New or expanded patches of D0 dotted Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Texas, with broader D0 coverage introduced in central and northeastern Arkansas. Dry conditions are relatively short-lived in this region, but the hot, dry weather is quickly depleting soil moisture, and the region could see more substantial expansion and intensification of dryness as August progresses. A small area of moderate drought was introduced within the D0 in the eastern Red River Valley where 60-day precipitation totals were under half of normal…
During the next 5 days (August 12 – 16, 2021) should see a resurgence of monsoonal moisture in the southern Rockies. Generally 1.5 to locally over 4.0 inches are forecast in the southeastern quarter of Arizona, the southern half of New Mexico, and part of northwestern Texas, with moderate rain expected in adjacent areas. Farther east, 1.0 to 3.0 inches of rain are expected from the North Carolina mountains into central Virginia, with isolated larger totals in the higher elevations. Moderate to heavy rains (1 to 2 inches) are anticipated in a swath from central Kansas into the southern Great Lakes Region, and across western Pennsylvania. Light to locally moderate rainfall (0.5 to 1.5 inches) should fall in northernmost New England, and in a broken pattern from northern Arkansas through the Middle Ohio Valley. Other areas in the central Plains and the lower Mississippi Valley can anticipate light to locally moderate rainfall. Little if any precipitation is forecast from the western Great Lakes Region across the northern half of the Rockies to the entire length of the West Coast, and over most of central and southern Texas. Temperatures will be near or above normal through most of the contiguous states, particularly from the central and northern Plains westward, where many locations could average 6 to 10 degrees F above normal. The only area expecting subnormal readings are the southern halves of Arizona and New Mexico, where unusually heavy precipitation will keep daytime highs 3 to 9 degrees F below normal.
The CPC 6-10 day extended range outlook (August 17 – 21, 2021) favors subnormal rainfall from the Northeast into the central Great Lakes Region, and southward into the Middle Atlantic Region. Dryness is also favored – though with lower confidence – in southern Texas, and from the Great Basin to the Oregon and lower Washington coasts. Enhanced chances for surplus rainfall cover a broad area across the Rockies, Plains, lower Ohio Valley, part of the lower Mississippi Valley, and the southeastern quarter of the country. Odds also favor above-normal precipitation in the areas of dryness and drought across Alaska. Meanwhile, warmer than normal weather is expected from the central and northern Plains eastward into the Middle Atlantic Region and Northeast to the Atlantic Coast. Chances for abnormal warmth top 70 percent from the northern half of the Great Lakes Region through New England, topping 80 percent in Maine and adjacent Vermont and New Hampshire. Increased chances of warmth also cover the Gulf Coast Region, southern Texas, and northern California. In contrast, mild conditions are favored in the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest, much of the Rockies, the southern High Plains, and across the Carolinas and much of Georgia.
The news in the blockbuster IPCC Climate Change report has the head of the United Nations calling it “A code red for humanity,” with grim and wide ranging predictions. In Colorado, climate science has been talked about for decades with effects being felt in the colder altitudes and warmer cities.
It’s been tangible in recent summers with poor air quality caused by fires which experts say are being worsened by climate change…
In the mountains, there’s a very visible effect at times.
“Climate change is the biggest force that’s going to affect our business and it’s an existential threat,” said Auden Schendler, senior vice president of sustainability for Aspen Skiing Company. “We’ve lost a month of winter since 1980. This is just measured on the ground here.”
As averages rise so do extremes. More record heat and more problematic drought. A warmer atmosphere evaporates more moisture. Drier mountains mean more forest fire danger.
“Right now people can’t get to Aspen because Glenwood Canyon is closed because of fires which the climate scientists told us would happen and then floods and runoff which the scientists told us would follow,” said Schendler. “The thesis historically was that people will, in a climate change world, would want to escape, say Denver where it’s 100 degrees, to come to the mountains, but last night I woke up choking because of that dense smoke here.”
“The fixes to these problems are not impossible, we know how to solve climate we’ve got the technology we’ve got the policies on the shelf, we can deploy them it’s going to be way, way cheaper to do that than to continue to see the kinds of catastrophes we’re seeing.”
The ski industry itself profits from people travelling great distances, for the most part using fossil fuels.
“Skiers didn’t say, ‘Hey get me to the ski resort in the most damaging way possible,’” he said. “The answer is this isn’t your fault, because you drive an SUV, the answer is there’s a systems problem and we’re going to fix it systematically and we have the technology to do it.”
Former U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the new ambassador to Mexico.
“Colorado is proud that one of our great statesmen will be representing the United States in Mexico,” Gov. Polis said in a press release Wednesday morning. “Ken Salazar was confirmed this morning by the United States Senate as Ambassador to Mexico. I congratulate my good friend Ambassador Salazar on his confirmation and look forward to working with him to expand our economic and cultural ties between Mexico and Colorado.”
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Salazar was the first Latino elected to statewide office in Colorado when he was elected as the Colorado attorney general in 1998. Salazar also served in the U.S. Senate, representing Colorado from 2005 until 2009, when he retired from the Senate after being nominated by former President Barack Obama to serve as the secretary of the Interior Department.
Salazar, a fifth-generation Coloradan, was born in Alamosa and raised on a family ranch. Salazar joined WilmerHale, a law firm with a branch in Denver, in 2013, according to the WilmerHale website.
On June 15, President Joe Biden announced Salazar and eight others as the ambassadors that he would submit to the Senate for confirmation. Both Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper supported Salazar’s nomination.
“Ken Salazar is an exceptional leader who has served Colorado and our country at the highest levels. As ambassador to Mexico he will revitalize the relationship with a neighbor, ally, and one of our biggest trading partners,”Hickenlooper said in a press release on June 15.
“President Biden has made a terrific choice in nominating Ken Salazar as the next Ambassador to Mexico,” Bennet said in the same press release. “Ken is a tremendous public servant with a strong record of bipartisanship in the United States Senate. He has always led with integrity, and I have great confidence in his ability to represent the United States.”
An ambassador is the U.S. president’s representative to a country, and normally leads the embassy in the country he or she is the ambassador to, according to the National Museum of American Diplomacy website.
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Utilities with goals of producing 100 percent renewable energy in Colorado must figure out how to reliably deliver electricity when relying upon resources, primarily wind and sunshine, that aren’t always reliable.
The answer may lie in water, and some of that water may come from Colorado’s Yampa River.
Colorado’s two largest electrical utilities, Xcel Energy and Tri-State Generation and Transmission, are talking about the potential for green hydrogen and other possible storage technologies associated with their existing coal-fired power plants, at Hayden and Craig, in the Yampa Valley. Both plants are scheduled to shut down, with Hayden slated to close by 2028 and Craig by 2030.
Duane Highley, the chief executive of Tri-State, told member cooperatives in a meeting Aug. 4 that Tri-State and the State of Colorado have partnered in a proposed Craig Energy Research Station.
Hydrogen has been described as the missing link in the transition away from fossil fuels. It can be produced in several ways. Green hydrogen, the subject of the proposal at Craig, is made from water using electrolysis. The oxygen separated from the H2O can be vented, leaving the hydrogen, a fluid that can be stored in tanks or, as is in a demonstration project in Utah, in salt caverns. The hydrogen can then be tapped later as a fuel source to produce electricity or, for that matter, put into pipelines for distribution to fueling stations.
How much water will be required to produce green hydrogen isn’t clear. But the Yampa Valley’s existing coal-fired plants have strong water portfolios that could be used to create green hydrogen or another storage technology called molten salt. The latter is the leading candidate at the Hayden plant, co-owned by Xcel Energy and its partners.
Craig Generating Station in 2021 is projected to use 7,394 acre-feet of water, according to a Tri-State filing with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. By 2029, the last year of coal generation at Craig, Tri-State projects water use will decline to 4,270 acre-feet.
Xcel Energy also has water rights associated with its somewhat smaller two-unit Hayden Generating Station.
When Tri-State first announced last year its plans to close its coal units, some hoped the utility would allow the water to continue downstream, aiding fish and habitat in the Yampa Valley. The Yampa, arguably Colorado’s least trammeled river, since 2018 has been plagued by drought. In early August, water managers placed a call on the middle section of the Yampa River for only the third time ever.
Western Resource Advocates, which works in both energy and water, has supported the green hydrogen proposal. But there’s also hope that a water dividend will still be realized in this transition, resulting in more water available for the Yampa, which is a major tributary to the Colorado River.
“If we do it right, we have the chance to equitably share the impacts and solutions to climate change all across Colorado and the West, with benefits for communities, economies and the environment,” says Bart Miller, director of the Healthy Rivers Program for Western Resource Advocates.
Green hydrogen, similar to wind and solar in the past, has a cost hurdle that research at Craig, if it happens, will seek to dismantle. The federal government’s Energy Earthshots Initiative announced in June hopes to drive the costs down 80% by the end of the decade. That is the program in which Tri-State hopes to participate.
Tri-State’s Highley suggested at the meeting last Thursday that the Craig site should swim to the top of the proposals, because it is an existing industrial site, and the Craig and Hayden units also have high-voltage transmission lines. This is crucial. Those lines dispatch electricity to the Front Range and other markets but they can also be used to import electricity from the giant wind farms being erected on Colorado’s Eastern Plains as well as solar collectors on rooftops and in backyards.
In addition, Craig and Hayden have workforces that, at least in theory, could be transitioned to work in energy storage projects.
Western Resource Advocates, in a June 30 letter to the Department of Energy, made note of that consideration. “A green, zero-carbon hydrogen project at Craig Station is an opportunity to demonstrate how the clean energy transition can also be a just transition for fossil fuel-producing communities,” said the letter signed by Erin Overturf, the Clean Energy Program director.
Several state agencies will likely play a role, said Dominique Gomez, deputy director of the Colorado Energy Office, including the Office of Just Transition that was established in 2019 and the Office of Economic Development and International Trade.
At Craig, the vision is “to provide researchers access to the key resources necessary to perform their research, including water, transmission and site space,” Tri-State spokesman Mark Stutz said in an e-mail. “As the initial step, Tri-State and the state plan to engage a group of stakeholders to facilitate the development of the center.”
The Department of Energy has not indicated when it expects to announce the finalists or grant funding.
At Hayden, where the coal units are scheduled to close in 2028, Xcel Energy says it is in the early stages of studying potential for molten salt, the leading energy storage technology at this time, but also green hydrogen.
Water use will depend upon the size of the projects, said Xcel representative Michelle Aguayo in a statement. “It’s important to remember the amount of water used in power generation in Colorado is relatively small, representing 0.3% of water diversion in the state.”
Xcel already participates in a hydrogen pilot project in Minnesota, its home state for operations, and has proposed natural gas plants in North Dakota and Minnesota that are to be designed to use hydrogen technology when it becomes viable and cost-effective.
“As we’ve said before, we’re focused on identifying and exploring technologies that will allow us to bring our customers carbon-free energy by 2050, technologies that are not available or cost effective today,” she said.
Long-time Colorado journalist Allen Best publishes Big Pivots, an e-magazine that covers the energy and other transitions in Colorado. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
From email from the Colorado Water Conservation Board:
The Colorado River District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) announced a partnership to release up to 677 acre-feet of water from Elkhead Reservoir to provide relief to farmers and ranchers in the Yampa Valley impacted by severe drought conditions.
Governor Polis announced this partnership during the Northwest Drought Tour – a two-day event that brought state officials and decision makers through Steamboat Springs and Craig to see first-hand impacts of drought on agriculture and other industries, and to find collaborative solutions and resources for the region.
The Yampa River Basin is one of many in Western Colorado suffering the effects of increasing temperatures, decreasing precipitation, and soil aridity, adding pressure to an already limited water supply.
“I am proud that the Colorado River District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board are doing their part by releasing 677 acre-feet of water from Elkhead Reservoir to local farmers and ranchers free of charge. Northwest Colorado continues to face exceptional drought conditions, with hot temperatures, dry soils, and reduced runoff, which impacts farmers and ranchers,” said Governor Polis. “Partnerships like this one showcase how collaboration and working together can help find local solutions. My administration will continue to work with local and federal entities to assist Coloradans as we navigate this systemic drought’s impact on our agricultural economy and local communities.”
The Colorado River District recently coordinated with the Division of Water Resources in an effort to postpone restrictions or a “call” on the Yampa River with releases from the District’s 2021 Yampa River Flow Pilot Project at Elkhead Reservoir. However, with water flows in the basin remaining low and water demands consistent, there is still the potential for future restrictions or “calls” in the Yampa River Basin.
In advance of this forecast, the River District initiated a financial partnership with the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) to provide supplemental water for agricultural producers in the Yampa River Basin.
“We are attempting to free up all available resources through innovative partnerships in the face of this ongoing drought,” said Colorado River District General Manager Andy Mueller. “This hotter, drier climate is hitting the small family farms and ranches along the Yampa River hard. We’re taking quick action to protect our constituents and the communities relying on these farmers and ranchers across the basin and the state.”
The agreement with CWCB will allow the River District to provide water to local agricultural stakeholders on a first-come, first-serve basis in Irrigation Year 2021, specifically for crop and/or livestock production. Through the CWCB, the state will provide the financial support necessary to pay for the stored water in Elkhead Reservoir for late season use by ranchers and farmers who depend on the Yampa River for irrigation and watering their livestock.
“As we continue to see compounded drought years that impact all Coloradans, including our agricultural producers, it is critical that we work together on collaborative solutions to meeting our future water needs,” said CWCB Director Rebecca Mitchell. “We are proud to support the Colorado River District in their efforts to provide additional water to the Yampa Valley farmers and ranchers in need.”
Available water through the Elkhead Reservoir release is limited, however, and therefore is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Those interested in applying should contact the Colorado River District’s Director of Asset Management, Hunter Causey, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In response to decreasing flows in the critical habitat reach, the Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 700 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 800 cfs for THURSDAY, August 12th, starting at 4:00 AM. Releases are made for the authorized purposes of the Navajo Unit, and to attempt to maintain a target base flow through the endangered fish critical habitat reach of the San Juan River (Farmington to Lake Powell).
The San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program recommends a target base flow of between 500 cfs and 1,000 cfs through the critical habitat area. The target base flow is calculated as the weekly average of gaged flows throughout the critical habitat area from Farmington to Lake Powell.