#Drought news (December 29, 2022): In #Colorado, D0 expanded in south central counties due to low #snowpack and 1- to 4-month precipitation deficits, and D0-D1 contracted in north central counties based on precipitation surpluses at the 1-week to 3-month time scales

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

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

This Week’s Drought Summary

A powerful low-pressure trough developed in the upper levels of the atmosphere over the eastern contiguous U.S. (CONUS) during this U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) week (December 21-27). At the surface, the trough was associated with a strong cold front that poured frigid arctic air into the U.S. east of the Rockies. Daytime maximum temperatures in the northern Plains were well below zero degrees Fahrenheit, with minimum temperatures colder than 20 below zero, at the peak of the cold wave. Bismarck, North Dakota, registered minus 10 for a high and minus 20 for a low on December 21 and 22; the high was below zero for 4 consecutive days and below freezing for at least 2 consecutive weeks. Williston, North Dakota, recorded minus 17 for a high and minus 29 for a low on December 20. The freezing arctic air spread to the Gulf of Mexico and East coasts, and even breeched the Rocky Mountain chain to reach the Pacific Northwest. The high temperature at Tupelo, Mississippi, was only 18 degrees with a low of 4 on December 23. Rain, freezing rain, and snow accompanied the arctic front as it swept east and south. An inch or more of precipitation fell across parts of the Gulf Coast and from the Appalachians to East Coast when the front tapped Gulf and Atlantic moisture. Some parts of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states received over 2 inches of precipitation, while an inch or more occurred over the lee sides of the Great Lakes, largely in the form of heavy lake effect snow. Buffalo, New York, officially measured 50.3 inches of snow from December 23-26, but much more snow fell in other favored leeside areas. Locally up to half an inch of precipitation occurred from the northern Plains to Upper Mississippi Valley. But the northwesterly flow was otherwise dry, so large parts of the Great Plains, Mississippi Valley, and Ohio Valley to Gulf Coast received less than half an inch of precipitation to no precipitation. The arctic blast froze soils across much of the Great Plains to Upper Mississippi Valley. Any precipitation that fell was not able to penetrate the frozen ground to increase soil moisture, so much of this region had no change in USDM status. In reaction to the eastern trough, an upper-level ridge developed over the western CONUS. This kept weekly temperatures near to warmer than normal from California to the Four Corners states, but it also kept much of the West dry. The exception was northern California to the Pacific Northwest and parts of the central and northern Rockies, where Pacific fronts brought areas of rain and snow. Two inches or more of precipitation fell in coastal areas and in the northern Rockies, with up to ten inches in parts of western Washington. Meanwhile Hawaii and Puerto Rico had a mostly drier-than-normal week while drier- and colder-than-normal weather dominated Alaska. The deep freeze and dry weather resulted in status quo conditions for much of the country. Drought or abnormal dryness expanded in parts of the Midwest, Colorado, and Puerto Rico, while contraction occurred in a few areas in the Southeast, East Coast, Wisconsin, Colorado, and Washington…

High Plains

Most of the High Plains region received less than half an inch of precipitation. Pockets of half to 1 inch of precipitation were found over North Dakota and the mountains of Colorado and Wyoming. The precipitation was above normal in parts of all of the High Plains states, but late December is in the dry season for much of the region and normals are low. With the entire region experiencing a deep freeze this week, little change was made to the USDM depiction. The exception was Colorado, where D0 expanded in south central counties due to low snowpack and 1- to 4-month precipitation deficits, and D0-D1 contracted in north central counties based on precipitation surpluses at the 1-week to 3-month time scales…

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending December 27, 2022.


Pacific frontal systems brought rain and snow to coastal areas of the West, from northern California to Washington, and to parts of the Rockies. Two to 5 inches of precipitation fell along the coastal and Cascade ranges, with up to 10 inches locally in Washington. Amounts ranged up to 2 inches or more in the northern Rockies. Pockets of up to 1 inch of precipitation were found over the central Rockies, but for the states further south, southern California, and the intermountain basin, little to no precipitation occurred. Since this is the wet season in the Pacific Northwest, the heavy precipitation this week resulted in month-to-date totals that were barely above normal in some areas, and 3-month precipitation totals were still below normal across most of the Pacific Northwest. Very dry SPI values were still evident at the 6-month time scale in spite of this week’s precipitation. Soils were saturated and real-time and 7-day stream levels rose significantly in response to the rain, but 28-day streamflow levels, which are more relevant for drought monitoring, were still very low as of the Tuesday morning valid date of this USDM. Snow depth increased at some sites in northern Washington and the Idaho to Colorado mountains, but most locations in the Pacific Northwest experienced no change or a decrease in snow depth. Reservoirs in Oregon continued very low across the state, with some of the large reservoirs (e.g., Owyhee, Warm Springs, Prineville, Howard Prairie) less than 15% full. Most of the reservoirs across the Pacific Northwest saw very little change in reservoir levels since the beginning of the month. D1 was pulled back in those parts of Washington that had the heaviest precipitation and reflected improvement at 1- to 3-month time scales, but most of the D1 and the D0 were kept in place across the Pacific Northwest to reflect the aggregate indicators and conditions at all time scales. The bulk of the precipitation that fell in California occurred near the end of the USDM week. This precipitation, and the precipitation that followed after the Tuesday morning valid time, will be evaluated in next week’s USDM. No change was made to the rest of the West region outside of Washington…


This week was drier than normal across all of the South region. Around half an inch of rain fell over parts of southern Mississippi and southeast Louisiana. Otherwise, weekly precipitation totals were less than a tenth of an inch, with large parts of Texas and Oklahoma receiving no precipitation. Much of the region has been wet during the last 2 months, but dry conditions dominate at longer time scales. The cold and dry conditions this week locked moisture conditions in place, so no change was made to the USDM depiction in the South…

Looking Ahead

As the cold air mass over the eastern CONUS exited out of the country during December 27-29, a strong Pacific weather system moved into the West, bringing abundant rain and snow. The western weather system will move across the West and into the central part of the country, while an upper-level ridge shifts eastward to dominate the weather over the East Coast. This combination will result in warmer-than-normal temperatures for much of the CONUS, especially east of the Rockies, and wet conditions from the Lower Mississippi Valley to eastern Great Lakes. The Pacific system will spread several inches of precipitation across much of the West, with 1 to 4 inches already having fallen through December 28. Predicted precipitation amounts for December 29-January 3 range from 1 to 4 inches over the Rockies and higher terrain of the intermountain basin, and from 4 to 10 inches or more along the immediate Pacific Coast, especially in California and the Sierra Nevada. As the weather system moves further east, 1 to 4 inches of precipitation is expected from east Texas to the Mid-Mississippi Valley and in the Southeast. One to 2 inches of precipitation is predicted across the central Plains to Upper Mississippi Valley, across parts of the Great Lakes, and into New England, with half an inch to an inch across the rest of the CONUS east of the Mississippi River. For January 4-10, the ridge over the eastern half of the CONUS is expected continue, keeping most of the country east of the Rockies warmer than normal, while the West averages near to cooler than normal. Odds favor above-normal precipitation across most of the CONUS, with near to below normal precipitation favored for parts of the northern and southern Plains. Drier-than-normal weather with near-normal temperatures are expected for northern Alaska, and wetter and warmer than normal for southern Alaska.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending December 27, 2022.

#Nevada calls on #Utah and Upper Colorado Basin states to slash #water use by 500,000 acre-feet: Drastic measures are needed to rescue #LakePowell — The Salt Lake Tribune #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Water users are urgently trying to keep Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona border from dropping to a point where Glen Canyon Dam can no longer generate electricity. (Source: Bureau of Reclamation)

Click the link to read the article on The Salt Lake Tribune website (Brian Maffly). Here’s an excerpt:

Nevada water managers have submitted a plan for cutting diversions by 500,000 acre-feet in a last-ditch effort to shore up flows on the Colorado River before low water levels cause critical problems at Glen Canyon and Hoover dams. But the Silver State’s plan targets cuts in Utah and the river’s other Upper Basin states, not in Nevada, whose leaders contend it already is doing what it can to reduce reliance on the depleted river system that provides water to 40 million in the West.

“It is well past time to prohibit the inefficient delivery, application, or use of water within all sectors and by all users; there simply is no water in the Colorado River System left to waste and each industrial, municipal, and agricultural user should be held to the highest industry standards in handling, using, and disposing of water,” states a Dec. 20 letter the Colorado River Commission of Nevada sent to the Interior Department. “It is critical that Reclamation pursue all options that will help reduce consumptive uses in the Basin and provide water supply reliability.”


One option Nevada offers is for Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming to accept substantial cuts in the amount of river they tap to ensure enough water reaches Lake Powell to keep Glen Canyon Dam’s hydropower turbines spinning and Lake Powell functioning as a reservoir…The proposal comes in the form of Nevada’s official comments to the supplemental environmental impact statement the Bureau of Reclamation is preparing for proposed changes to the operations of the drought-depleted reservoirs. One of three Lower Basin states, Nevada called on the Upper Basin states to reduce their withdrawals by a combined 500,000 acre-feet if Lake Powell’s level is projected to drop below 3,550 feet above sea level at the start of the coming calendar year…Today, the lake’s level is already far below than that, at 3,525.7 feet, just 35 feet above the point at which Glen Canyon Dam’s turbines would be damaged if water passes through the penstocks.

Lake Powell key elevations. Credit: Reclamation

“The reason [The Upper Colorado River Commision’s] five-point plan doesn’t have any specific numbers is because we don’t know what’s ahead of us. We don’t know whether the runoff is going to be 7 million acre-feet or 20 million acre-feet,” Shawcroft said. “The real challenge is the hydrology. But we know for a fact that that we’re not going to be able to continue operating the river like we always have. The majority of the water gets used in the lower basin states, but does that mean that Upper [Basin] states are off the hook? I don’t think they are.”

Holiday snows grace #Colorado ski slopes, but barely move the needle on #drought — @WaterEdCO

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

Last week’s snow gave Colorado holiday skiers plenty to rejoice over, but the state’s drought-hammered mountains and plains continue to see just average, and in some cases far below average, conditions.

“An average snow year is a whole heck of a lot of snow, even in a year when we’re below average. It’s a great year for skiing but it may or may not translate into a great year for water,” said Russ Schumacher, Colorado’s state climatologist.

As of Dec. 27, the statewide snowpack is registering at 102% of normal, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

And while that number doesn’t provoke much excitement among hydrologists, it is still substantially higher than it was at this time last year, when statewide snowpack was just 74% of normal, according to Karl Wetlaufer, a hydrologist and assistant snow survey supervisor at the NRCS in Lakewood.

Mountain snow levels are tracked closely because when they melt, they provide much of the state’s annual water supplies. Hydrologists, using a time period known as the water year that begins Oct. 1, begin monitoring with the first snows in the late fall, and continue through May 1 when the spring melt and runoff begin. Spring snowstorms can sometimes dramatically boost the water forecast, though there is not much hope for that this year.

Colorado and much of the American West remain mired in a devastating drought, thought to be the worst in 1,200 years. But thanks to a third year of what’s known as a La Niña weather pattern, in which warm temperatures in the Pacific bring heavy moisture over the northern parts of the Rockies, Colorado’s northern regions are seeing above average snowpacks.

“In general, Northern Colorado has been faring quite a bit better with regard to snowpack accumulation than the southern parts of the state,” Wetlaufer said.

The Yampa River Basin, home to Steamboat Springs, and the neighboring White River Basin have the healthiest snowpacks right now, registering at 115% percent of average, with the South Platte Basin, home to Denver, Greeley and Fort Collins, registering 101%.

And as has been the case for the last several years, the southern part of the state is suffering the most.

The Rio Grande Basin, for instance, is at just 65% of normal, while the San Miguel-Dolores Basin stands at 70% of normal. The Arkansas River Basin is the lowest of anywhere in the state, at 59%.

Meanwhile, the Colorado River Basin, the heart of the giant seven-state system that is on the brink of collapse, is at 106% of normal, while the Gunnison River Basin, a major tributary to the Colorado, is at 94% of normal, according to the NRCS. The Yampa, White and San Miguel-Dolores basins also feed into the Colorado River system, but farther downstream and beyond Colorado’s borders.

With the winter off to a just-okay start, there is some good news. This past summer’s monsoons helped boost soil moisture levels to their highest point in eight years, and that means as snows start to melt next spring more of the water should find its way into streams and reservoirs, rather than being absorbed by the ultra-dry soils that have become a hallmark of this drought.

“It is really, really encouraging that we are going into the season with substantially more soil moisture,” Wetlaufer said.

West Drought Monitor map December 20, 2022.

In addition, the U.S. Drought Monitor shows that much of Colorado is pulling out of the most severe stages of drought, with portions of the central mountains being completely free of drought, and the West Slope and Front Range showing just abnormally dry to moderate drought levels. Drought ranging from severe to exceptional still remains across most of the Eastern Plains.

The warming climate and the stubborn drought continue to keep hydrologists and weather watchers on high alert.

The Colorado River’s two giant reservoirs, lakes Powell and Mead, are at critical lows and even an average snowpack this year isn’t going to provide much help, Schumacher said.

“Here in Colorado our water is very much determined by how much snow we get in any individual winter,” said Schumacher. “But the situation in lakes Powell and Mead is that we need year after year of way above average snowpack and that does not appear to be the pattern that we are in.

“The way that weather and climate has been going in the last 20 years is not in our favor,” he 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.

November’s global average atmospheric #carbondioxide (CO₂) was about 420 parts per million — NASA: https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/carbon-dioxide/ #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

This is a roughly 50% increase since 1750 due to human activities, such as burning fossil fuels and land-use change

Annual water conference ends as new cuts loom over #ColoradoRiver users — KJZZ #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2022

Colorado Water Conservation Board Executive Director and commissioner to the Upper Colorado River Commission Becky Mitchell, center, speaks on a panel with representatives of each of the seven basin states at the annual Colorado River Water Users Association conference in Las Vegas Thursday. The UCRC released additional details of a water conservation program at the CRWUA2022 Conference. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Click the link to read the article on the KJZZ websits (Ron Dungan). Here’s an excerpt:

Colorado River Basin states recently gathered in Las Vegas for their annual water users convention. The states are trying to figure out how to get by with less water. The conference focused on a variety of topics, such as new technology, conservation and funding that will guide water users into the next century. But federal water managers say that new conservation measures need to be put in place or they will impose cuts.

“Cities versus agriculture” — The latest “The Runoff” newsletter is hot off the presses from @AspenJournalism #ColordoRiver #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2022

Fountains shoot water from the Colorado River into the air outside of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas Friday. The resort hosts the annual Colorado River Water Users Association conference. CREDIT: HEATHER SACKETT/ASPEN JOURNALISM

Click the link to read the latest edition of The Runoff newsletter from the Aspen Journalism website:

Cities versus agriculture

Some water managers at CRWUA acknowledged a truth that is widely known but rarely stated so candidly: As the Colorado River crisis deepens, water to cities will not be cut off in favor of continuing to grow hay in the desert, no matter what the law of the river — which grants the most powerful water rights to the mostly agricultural users who got here first — says. 

“If the literal enforcement of the law is that 27 million Americans don’t have water, those laws will not be enforced,” said John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority. 

The wisdom of building mega-cities in arid regions aside, the fact is that Denver, Phoenix, Las Vegas and L.A. exist now and rely on the Colorado River. And denying people water at their taps would be a public health catastrophe and moral failure. 

“People migrate toward opportunity and you can’t stop it only at great moral cost,” said Kathryn Sorenson, a professor at Arizona State University and former director of Phoenix Water Services. “The cities have an obligation to provide water to the people who arrived.”

A year after the #MarshallFire, #Boulder communities are taking fire mitigation into the plains — #Colorado Public Radio

Boulder. By Gtj82 at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Patriot8790., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11297782

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Publie Radio website (Sam Brasch). Here’s an excerpt:

The setting of the 2021 disaster shocked Boulder County residents and scientists. While the original cause is still under investigation, the blaze got rolling in protected grasslands before hurricane-force winds rocketed it into suburban communities far outside the mountains…

“We’ve ignored grasslands in terms of fire risk. We’ve concentrated a lot on forests — and we need to really better understand the differences,” [Kathryn] Suding said.

One critical distinction is the resilience of deep-rooted grasslands. No burn scar is visible from Suding’s perch above the fire zone, proving how quickly fuels can return to prairie landscapes. In woodlands, by contrast, studies show thinning trees and removing low branches can reduce dangerous wildfire fuels for years.  Suding said the challenge is even trickier due to climate change, which has brought drier summers and falls to the Front Range and packed areas with quick-burning thatch. She said the result is a “high window of risk that wasn’t there before.”


A year after the disaster, here are five ideas local governments in Boulder County are considering to guard against future grassfires.

1. Hardening homes

In November, Boulder County voters approved ballot issue 1A, which will raise $11 million annually to fund wildfire mitigation efforts. The money will expand Wildfire Partners, a program that previously helped mountain and foothills homeowners make their homes less vulnerable to fire…

2. Mowing

Other methods reduce fuel in natural landscapes rather than the built environment. That task is especially important in places where grasslands border homes, giving wildfires a clear and dangerous pathway into communities…

3. Grazing

Grazing is another method Boulder County communities already use to reduce grassland fuels. One question is whether it could be deployed even closer to suburban neighborhoods…

4. Landscape wetting

Through her research, Suding also plans to investigate plans to build stone structures across grassland drainages. The hope is that will help retain water, keeping plants wetter throughout the year and less vulnerable to fires…

5. Prescribed fire

The Front Range is no stranger to wildfires. Before Euro-American settlers brought a culture of fire suppression, North American prairies burned every two to 12 years, helping to reduce future fire risk and preserving rangeland for wildlife.