The latest seasonal outlooks through July 31, 2022 are hot off the presses from the #Climate Prediction Center

Not good news at all.

#Drought news (April 21, 2022): Nearly half (48%) of the winter wheat in #Colorado was rated in very poor to poor condition. One-fifth to one-third of the wheat was rated very poor to poor in #KS (31%), #NE (27%)

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.

Click the link to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

This Week’s Drought Summary

The drought-monitoring period, which began on the morning of April 12 and ended early April 19, featured a powerful spring storm delivering significant, late-season snow from the Cascades and Sierra Nevada to the northern Plains. High winds and blizzard conditions accompanied the snow, especially across the northern Plains. Farther south, drought conditions worsened across portions of the central and southern Plains and the Southwest, amid windy, dry conditions. At times, winds raised dust and contributed to the rapid spread of several wildfires, including the 6,159-acre McBride Fire, which destroyed well over 300 structures after being ignited on April 12 in Ruidoso, New Mexico. Meanwhile, heavy showers and locally severe thunderstorms swept across the Mississippi Delta and environs, producing widespread rainfall totals of 2 to 4 inches or more and causing localized wind and hail damage. Significant rain fell in other areas, including parts of the Midwest and Northeast. During the last 24 hours of the drought-monitoring period, rain swept into the Atlantic Coast States, with some wet snow observed across the interior Northeast. Warm weather prevailed for much of the period in the South and East, while a harsh cold snap engulfed the northern Plains and Northwest. In fact, an extended spell of chilly weather broadly covered the western U.S., as well as the upper Midwest…

High Plains

A winter-like storm pounded North Dakota and portions of neighboring states, delivering much-needed moisture but disrupting travel and stressing livestock. Across the remainder of the High Plains, however, windy, dry weather raised dust, resulted in fast-spreading wildfires, and led to a broad increase in the coverage of abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate to extreme drought (D1 to D3). In North Dakota, April 12-14 snowfall included 12.6 inches in Grand Forks (National Weather Service office) and 18.3 inches in Bismarck. Storm-total snowfall topped 2 feet in several North Dakota communities, including Velva (28.0 inches), Lansford (27.5 inches), Dunn Center (26.0 inches), and Underwood (24.3 inches). During the storm, a wind gust to 54 mph was clocked in Bismarck; elsewhere in North Dakota, gusts reached 60 mph in Dickinson and 63 mph in Minot and Hettinger. In the storm’s wake, single-digit low temperatures were common across snow-covered North Dakota, where temperatures fell to 8°F in Minot and Grand Forks. With a low of 0°F on the 16th, Bismarck, North Dakota, experienced its latest-ever reading of 0°F or below—and its coldest April weather since 1996, when it was -1°F on April 5. Temperatures briefly plunged across the central Plains, threatening the already drought-stressed winter wheat crop. Denver, Colorado, registered 10°F on April 13, a record for the date, followed the next day by daily-record lows of 4°F in Sidney, Nebraska, and 9°F in Colby, Kansas. By April 17, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that topsoil moisture was rated more than 60% very short to short in each of the region’s states except North Dakota, led by Nebraska (84% very short to short). On the same date, nearly half (48%) of the winter wheat in Colorado was rated in very poor to poor condition. One-fifth to one-third of the wheat was rated very poor to poor in Kansas (31%), Nebraska (27%), and South Dakota (22%)…

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending April 19, 2022.

West

A classic La Niña regime has developed in recent weeks, providing beneficial moisture across northern California and the Pacific Northwest, eastward to the northern Rockies. At the same time, dry, often windy weather has affected the nation’s southwestern quadrant. As a result, deterioration has been observed in parts of the Southwest, particularly in New Mexico. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Montana (85%) led the West in topsoil moisture rated very short to short on April 17, followed by New Mexico (80%). New Mexico, in addition to the McBride Fire, has been dealing with several other blazes, including the 7,573-acre Hermits Peak Fire, which started as a prescribed fire northwest of Las Vegas on April 6 before escaping containment. More recently, the Crooks Fire has been actively burning south of Prescott, Arizona, with numerous evacuations in effect. Farther north, however, the recent spell of cool, damp weather has generally boosted topsoil moisture, has locally improved water-supply prospects, and has provided a late-season boost in high-elevation snowpack. Snow briefly fell at lower elevations, too, with the airport in Portland, Oregon—which had never experienced a measurable April snowfall—receiving 1.9 inches on April 11-12. The airport’s previous latest snow had fallen on March 25, 1965, when 0.3 inch fell. Downtown Portland, hit with 2.0 inches of wet snow on April 11, also set a record for its latest accumulation (previously, 0.1 inch on April 10, 1903). Measurable snow fell in Great Falls, Montana, each day from April 11-17, totaling 12.2 inches. Farther west, the first-ever measurable April snow fell at the agricultural experiment station in Wenatchee, Washington. Incredibly, the Wenatchee Experiment Station received 10.4 inches of snow on April 14, boosting its month-to-date total to 13.1 inches. A neighboring station, the Wenatchee Water Plant, received a storm total of 5.4 inches, breaking its April 1935 record of 0.5 inch. The net effect of the Northwestern precipitation was to result in slight trimming of moderate to extreme drought (D1 to D3). However, there was often a fine line between areas that received beneficial precipitation and those that did not…

South

Heavy rain fell across roughly the eastern half of the region, resulting in extensive reductions in the coverage of abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate to extreme drought (D1 to D4). According to a network of volunteer (CoCoRaHS) observers, month-to-date rainfall totals of 6 to 8 inches or more are common across the region. April 1-19 rainfall officially reached 8.51 inches in Arkadelphia, Arkansas; 7.64 inches in Hattiesburg, Mississippi; and 6.70 inches in Troy, Alabama. In stark contrast, moderate to exceptional drought (D1 to D4) continued to worsen in many areas west of a line stretching across eastern sections of Oklahoma and Texas. On April 17, Texas led the U.S. (tied with Montana) with topsoil moisture rated 85% very short to short, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Also, on the 17th, more than three-quarters (81%) of the winter wheat in Texas, along with 80% of the oats and 76% of the rangeland and pastures, were rated in very poor to poor condition. Nationally, 37% of the winter wheat was rated in very poor to poor condition on that date, highest at this time of year since April 14, 1996, when 43% of the crop fell into those two categories. On the southern High Plains, episodes of blowing dust or smoky skies have been common this spring; in Lubbock, Texas, visibilities were sharply reduced in dust on April 12, when a southwesterly wind gust to 60 mph was reported. The south-central U.S. has also experienced periods of extreme heat, with McAllen, Texas, reporting highs of 100°F or greater on April 6, 11, and 13. McAllen’s high of 109°F on April 6 set a monthly record (previously, 107°F on April 26, 1984, and April 27, 2014). However, there have also been cool spells, with Dalhart, Texas, posting a daily-record low of 22°F on April 14…

Looking Ahead

A parade of Pacific storms will maintain unsettled weather across much of the country during the next several days. One of the most consequential storms will traverse the western U.S. on April 21-22 before intensifying over the northern and central Plains. The storm system will result in similar impacts to those observed last week, including wind-driven snow across northern sections of the Rockies and Plains (mostly on April 22-23); high winds, possible blowing dust, and an elevated wildfire threat over a multi-day period across portions of the central and southern Plains and the Southwest; and a multi-day risk of severe thunderstorms, especially during the weekend from the Plains into parts of the mid-South and Midwest. In contrast, negligible precipitation will fall during the next 5 days along the Gulf Coast, in the Atlantic Coast States, and across the Southwest. The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for April 26 – 30 calls for near- or below-normal temperatures across much of the country, with the greatest likelihood of cool conditions focused on the Great Lakes States. However, warmer-than-normal weather will prevail from southern California to the central and southern Great Plains. Meanwhile, near- or below-normal precipitation should be observed nationwide, except for wetter-than-normal conditions from the northern Cascades to western North Dakota.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending April 19, 2022.

The family-owned Pankey Ranch in Moffat and Routt counties has been honored with the 2022 Leopold Conservation Award

Front row (left to right): Ryan, Adyson, Shelley, and Jack Pankey. Back row: Justin, Shea, Keith, Kevin, and Sarah Pankey. Photo credit: Sand Country Foundation

Click the link to read the release on the Sand County Foundation website:

The Pankey family’s resilience was put to a test when a wildfire burned nearly half of their ranch in 2018. Among the devastating impacts of the fire was livestock and wildlife could no longer drink from ponds because they were covered in ashes.

Keith and Shelley Pankey raise beef cattle with their sons, Kevin and Justin and their families, in Moffat and Routt counties. They have a history of doing right by their land. Following the fire, they cleaned the ponds and aerially reseeded native grasses on 900 acres in the fire’s path. It’s not the first time investing in conservation practices has paid off for this family and the landscape they share with livestock and wildlife.

Keith’s great grandfather homesteaded an area of high desert known as Great Divide. The Pankeys are still able to graze cattle in the drought-prone region from spring through fall thanks to improved water distribution and rotational grazing systems.

They replaced windmill-powered wells with solar pumps. New water storage tanks and nearly three miles of natural flow pipelines were also added. By expanding the number of watering stations (from six to 12) the Pankeys increased their ability to properly graze cattle while creating wildlife habitat across the ranch.

Precipitation, range conditions, and animal performance all impact how the Pankeys plan pasture rotations and stocking rates. They analyze pasture rotations to determine which areas benefit from early, middle or late season grazing. They’ve also found that some areas benefit from longer or shorter periods of grazing, while others benefit from being grazed twice in the same season.

When cattle widely disburse themselves, the Pankeys find that grass recovers at a faster rate, and taller grass is left behind when the cattle are rotated to another pasture. The ranch’s wildlife populations have greatly increased thanks to rotational grazing and the improved water system. By working with neighbors to control noxious weeds, desirable grasses have become dominant across the ranch.

Pankey Ranch borders Colorado’s largest Greater sage-grouse lek, a breeding ground for this declining species. The Pankeys hosted Colorado State University students to study grasses, insects, and Greater sage-grouse habitat in the Great Divide range. Their study was helpful in determining which conservation practices to adopt. The Pankeys fenced off a large area around a natural spring to provide cover. They also equipped water storage tanks with overflows that provide water and prolonged green vegetation to encourage production of insects that grouse chicks consume.

The Pankeys are involved with a large-scale conservation effort led by Trout Unlimited to stabilize Elk Head Creek’s riparian corridor. They have installed rock toe and erosion control mats, and reseeded stream banks to prevent erosion. Hundreds of willow trees have been planted in corridors to preserve wetlands and fish habitat. Less erosion in the creek means cleaner water downstream in the Elk Head Reservoir and Yampa River. This family’s leadership in raising awareness of the creek’s impaired health, and commitment to on-the-ground conservation practices, is inspiring other landowners to follow suit.

The Pankeys also provide public hunting opportunities on their land. In 2011, they obtained a conservation easement on their Routt County property through the Colorado Cattlemen’s Agricultural Land Trust to ensure future agricultural uses on the land. As a longtime volunteer with the Moffat County Fair, Keith shares his land ethic and conservation practices with youth, neighbors and the general public.

Click the link to read “Pankey Ranch’s conservation efforts earn attention from Colorado Cattlemen’s Association” on the Craig Press website (Amber Delay). Here’s an excerpt:

According to the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, the Leopold Award was created in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold to recognize farmers, ranchers and forestland owners who inspire others with their voluntary conservation efforts on private, working lands…

The Pankeys will be presented with the award June 13 at the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association Convention in Colorado Springs…

To mention a few who have contributed in addition to Trout Unlimited were: The National Resources Conservation Services, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the City of Craig, The Yampa-White-Green-Basin Roundtable and The Lower Colorado River Habitat Partnership Program.

Animation showing the strong correlation between recent increases in carbon dioxide and changes in global mean temperature, as well as projected future changes — @RARohde

Suncor discharging “forever chemicals” into #SandCreek and the #SouthPlatteRiver, enviro report says: Sand Creek and the South Platte provide drinking water and are used to irrigate crops — The #Denver Post #PFAS

PFAS contamination in the U.S. via ewg.org. [Click the map to go to the website.]

Click the link to read the article on The Denver Post website (Conrad Swanson). Here’s an excerpt:

Discharges from one of Suncor’s drainage ports accounts for between 16% and 47% of the total PFAS pumped into Sand Creek in 2021, according to a report from Wheat Ridge’s Westwater Hydrology LLC. The creek dumps into the South Platte River and the refinery can be linked to 3% to 18% of the total PFAS found in that waterway. Analysts with Westwater Hydrology prepared their report for Earthjustice, a national environmental nonprofit…Chemicals found in Sand Creek and the South Platte River can be especially troubling because cities like Commerce City, Brighton, Thornton and Aurora take in water from the river downstream of Suncor, the report indicates…

Pollution measured in the study only accounts for a portion of the discharges from Suncor, Wheeler said. The refinery installed a temporary treatment system in October to reduce PFAS discharges “but even with these measures in place, the pollution remains at toxic levels” under limits set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

La Niña likely to continue, intensifying #drought, wildfires; #snowpack hits [86%] of average — @WaterEdCO

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Jerd Smith):

As warm spring winds whip the Eastern Plains, sapping soils of moisture, and the state’s reservoirs sit at below-average levels, water managers got more bad news Tuesday: this two-year drought cycle could continue through the summer and into the fall leading the state into its third year of below-average snowpack and streamflows and high wildfire danger.

Looking ahead the weather pattern known as La Niña, which has created the intense drought of the past two years, is likely to continue, according to Peter Goble, a climate specialist with Colorado State University’s Colorado Climate Center.

“La Niña is not letting go,” Goble said Tuesday at a meeting of the state’s Water Availability Task Force, a group charged with monitoring the state’s water supplies. “It may stick around for a third year and this will reduce our chances of any meaningful drought recovery this spring and summer.”

In Colorado, and other Western states, mountain snow levels are closely watched because when they melt in late spring, they supply the majority of water for cities and farms.

In January, holiday snows boosted the state’s snowpack to 119% of average, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). But spring snows have not provided as much relief as hoped.

Now, statewide snowpack is at [86%] of average, according to the NRCS, an improvement over last year’s 79% of average mark at this time. But ultra-windy conditions and warm temperatures continue to rob the soils statewide of critical moisture, meaning a significant amount of the water from melting snow will be absorbed before it reaches streams.

Colorado snowpack basin-filled map April 20, 2022 via the NRCS.

At the same time the state’s stored water supplies are at just 76% of normal, according to Karl Wetlaufer, a hydrologist and assistant snow survey supervisor with the NRCS.

“We’re seeing some of the lowest storage levels in more than 30 years,” Wetlaufer said.

Blue Mesa Reservoir is Colorado’s largest reservoir, able to store some 800,000 acre-feet of water. But due to the drought, and an emergency release of 36,000 acre-feet last summer to aid Lake Powell, Blue Mesa is just over 40% full.

More releases to Lake Powell from the reservoir, a recreational hot spot, may be necessary this summer. And because runoff isn’t expected to be that high, Blue Mesa isn’t expected to recover much, if at all this year, officials said.

The boat ramp at the Lake Fork Marina closed for the season on Sept. 2 due to declining reservoir levels. The Bureau of Reclamation is making emergency releases out of Blue Mesa Reservoir to prop up levels in Lake Powell and preserve the ability to make hydropower.
CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

“Blue Mesa is not expected to fill, and by the end of this year it will be right back to where it is now … it’s not looking good for this area,” said Beverly Richards, a water resources specialist with the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, which helps shape policy and management strategies for the river.

More releases to Lake Powell from the reservoir, a recreational hot spot, may be necessary this summer. And because runoff isn’t expected to be that high, Blue Mesa isn’t expected to recover much, if at all this year, officials said.

“Blue Mesa is not expected to fill, and by the end of this year it will be right back to where it is now … it’s not looking good for this area,” said Beverly Richards, a water resources specialist with the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, which helps shape policy and management strategies for the river.

On the Front Range, some cities, such as Thornton, expect their reservoirs to fill. The South Platte Basin is near normal for its snowpack and streamflow forecasts are healthier than others across the state.

But Swithin Dick, water resources manager for Centennial Water and Sanitation District in Highlands Ranch, said the outlook is worrisome.

“My gut meter is moving from cautious to concerned,” Dick said.

Denver Water, Colorado’s largest city water supplier, derives its supplies from the Upper Colorado River Basin on the West Slope, as well as the South Platte River. Its storage system is at 79% full, while snowpack in its mountain watersheds is measuring 79% to 80% full.

Some relief from the dry, windy weather could come in May if forecasts prove to be off track, Goble said.

“You want some million dollar rains on the Eastern Plains,“ Goble said. “But the deck is stacked against us.”

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.

Precipitation resets water peak, doesn’t drown out #drought concerns — Steamboat Pilot & Today #YampaRiver #GreenRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the article on the Steamboat Pilot & Today website (Dylan Anderson). Here’s an excerpt:

Precipitation in the last week has increased the amount of water in the Yampa, White and Little Snake River Basin’s snowpack, pushing it past the potential peak in late March. If that March 25 peak had held, it would have been the earliest since 2017, but nearly an inch of rain in April means the peak could come at the latest date it has since 2013.

“This week was like a godsend,” said Todd Hagenbuch, director and agricultural agent for the Routt County Colorado State University Extension Office. “I’m not going to say I’m overly optimistic now, but it was certainly better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.”

The snow-water equivalent of the area’s snowpack stood at 17.6 inches on Monday, April 18, according to the National Water and Climate Center. More moisture is always a good thing, according to Hagenbuch, who said the situation is not as dire now as it seemed each of the last two springs.

Colorado Drought Monitor map April 12, 2022.

This time last year, the U.S. Drought Monitor considered Routt County to be in extreme and exceptional drought. The latest map is less severe with the entire county considered to have moderate drought conditions.

While the snowpack is looking better, it is still at a lower level than last year’s peak of 18 inches of water, and well below the 30-year median peak of 21.3 inches for the basin. Water officials at the Colorado River District’s State of the Yampa River event last month said spring rain would be key to how this water year ends up. So far, precipitation has been near normal for April, and there is more in the forecast for later in the week.