Assessing the U.S. #Climate in May 2023: Record-breaking heat wave hits the Northwest in May — NOAA

Monarch butterfly on milkweed in Mrs. Gulch’s landscape July 17, 2021.

Click the link to read the article on the NOAA website:

Key Points:

  • Millions of people were placed under heat advisories as a heat wave brought record-breaking temperatures to parts of the Northwest during mid May. Temperatures reached 89°F in Seattle and 92°F in Portland, setting daily records in both cities.
  • Over the spring season, less than two inches of rain fell over parts of eastern Nebraska, resulting in the driest conditions for the region since 1934 during the Dust Bowl. 
  • Nine billion-dollar weather and climate disasters have been confirmed this year. These disasters consisted of seven severe storm events, one winter storm and one flooding event.
  • Drought coverage in the contiguous U.S. has dropped nearly 44% over the last seven months, from 63% on November 1, 2022 to 19% on May 30, 2023—the fastest reduction in drought coverage since the start of the U.S. Drought Monitor (since 2000), and the smallest drought footprint since May 26, 2020.
  • Much of the eastern U.S. had a warm start to 2023. For the January–May period, 28 states experienced a top-10 warmest event and Florida was record warm.
  • In May, the average temperature was 11th warmest and precipitation ranked in the driest third of the historical record.

Other Highlights:


The average temperature of the contiguous U.S. in May was 62.4°F, 2.2°F above average, ranking 11th warmest in the 129-year record. Generally, May temperatures were below average along the East Coast, from Vermont to northern Florida. Temperatures were above average across much of the West to the Mississippi River Valley and in the Florida Peninsula. Washington ranked warmest on record for May while Oregon, Idaho and Montana each ranked fifth warmest on record. Four additional states ranked among their top-10 warmest May on record. Conversely, South Carolina ranked 10th coldest on record for the month. 

The Alaska statewide May temperature was 39.8°F, 2.0°F above the long-term average, ranking in the middle third of the 99-year period of record for the state. Temperatures were above average across much of the north, east and Panhandle, with near-normal temperatures observed across much of the western and southern portions of the state, including the Aleutians, during the month.

The meteorological spring (March–May) average temperature for the contiguous U.S. was 51.5°F, 0.6°F above average, ranking in the middle third of the record. Temperatures were above average from the southern Plains and Great Lakes to the East Coast and in parts of the Northwest. Temperatures were below average from parts of the West Coast to the northern Plains. Florida ranked fourth warmest while Massachusetts ranked 10th warmest on record for this spring season.

The Alaska spring temperature was 23.3°F, 0.7°F below the long-term average, ranking in the coldest third of the record for the state. Temperatures were below average across much of interior Alaska and in parts of the west, southwest and Panhandle, while parts of the North Slope and Aleutians saw above average spring temperatures.

For the January–May period, the average contiguous U.S. temperature was 45.2°F, 1.9°F above average, ranking 18th warmest on record for this period. Temperatures were above average across much of the eastern U.S. and parts of the Northwest, with near- to below-average temperatures from the northern Plains to the West Coast. Florida ranked warmest on record while Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland each had their second warmest January–May period. An additional 22 states had a top-10 warmest year-to-date period. No state experienced a top-10 coldest event for this five-month period. 

The Alaska January–May temperature was 17.4°F, 1.6°F above the long-term average, ranking in the middle third of the historical record for the state. Much of the state was near-normal for the five-month period while temperatures were above average across much of the North Slope and in parts of the southeast, Kodiak Island and the Aleutians.


May precipitation for the contiguous U.S. was 2.56 inches, 0.35 inch below average, ranking in the driest third of the historical record. Precipitation was above average across much of the western Plains and West and in parts of the Southeast and New England. Precipitation was below average from the Mississippi River Valley to the Mid-Atlantic and southern New England, and in parts of the Northwest and central Rockies. Wisconsin ranked fourth driest while Pennsylvania ranked fifth, Maryland eighth and Michigan ninth driest on record.No state experienced a top-10 wettest event for this month.

Across the state of Alaska, the average monthly precipitation was 2.98 inches, making last month the fourth-wettest May in the 99-year record. Conditions were wetter than average across most of the state while parts of the Southeast were record wettest. Near-average precipitation was observed in parts of the Aleutians and the Panhandle during the month.

The U.S. spring precipitation total was 7.86 inches, 0.08 inch below average, ranking in the middle third of the March–May record. Precipitation was above average from the West Coast to the Rocky Mountains, and in parts of the western Plains, northern Great Lakes and Southeast. Spring precipitation was below average from the central Plains to the Mid-Atlantic and in parts of the central and northern Rockies, as well as Maine. Pennsylvania and Maryland each ranked ninth driest while Kansas ranked 13th driest on record for the spring season. 

For spring season precipitation, Alaska ranked in the middle third of the record with wetter-than-average conditions observed across most of the state. Precipitation was near average in parts of south-central Alaska and along the Gulf of Alaska coast.

The January–May precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. was 12.82 inches, 0.43 inch above average, ranking in the middle third of the 129-year record. Precipitation was above average across much of California and the Southwest, and in parts of the southern Mississippi Valley, Southeast, northern Plains and Great Lakes. Utah and Nevada ranked 11th and 13th wettest on record, respectively. Conversely, precipitation was below average across much of the Mid-Atlantic and in parts of the Northwest and central Plains during the January–May period. Maryland ranked fifth driest while Pennsylvania ranked 12th driest on record.

The January–May precipitation ranked in the wettest third of the 99-year record for Alaska, with above-average precipitation observed across much of the eastern Interior, North Slope, West Coast and in parts of the Panhandle. The central Interior and parts of the Southwest and Southeast were near average while south central Alaska and parts of the Aleutians experienced below-average precipitation during this period.

Billion-Dollar Disasters

There have been nine confirmed weather and climate disaster events, each with losses exceeding $1 billion this year. These disasters consisted of seven severe storm events, one winter storm and one flooding event. The total cost of these events exceeds $23 billion, and they have resulted in 99 direct and indirect fatalities.

The U.S. has sustained 357 separate weather and climate disasters since 1980 where overall damages/costs reached or exceeded $1 billion (including CPI adjustment to 2023). The total cost of these 357 events exceeds $2.540 trillion.

Other Notable Events

Several notable weather systems produced severe thunderstorms and tornadoes that impacted portions of the U.S. in May.

  • On May 7, a line of severe thunderstorms moved into southern Indiana and northern Kentucky. A total of six tornadoes was confirmed by the National Weather Service, five of which occurred within a 15-minute span.
  • A tornado outbreak occurred across areas of central Oklahoma on May 11. The National Weather Service confirmed a total of nine tornadoes, which snapped utility poles and damaged homes.
  • On May 12, severe thunderstorms produced several tornadoes, up to grapefruit-sized hail and flooding in parts of Nebraska. A total of 19 tornadoes, including three rated as EF-2, was confirmed by the National Weather Service.

During late April and early May, spring melting of record winter snowfall caused the Mississippi River to crest, resulting in near-record flooding in cities along the Mississippi River in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.

A coastal low brought rainfall of up to five inches and over 50 mph wind gusts to the Carolina coast over the Memorial Day weekend. The low also brought rainfall and thunderstorms to much of the Southeast.

US Drought Monitor map June 6, 2023.


According to the May 30 U.S. Drought Monitor report, about 19.0% of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, down about 5.4% from the beginning of May. Moderate to exceptional drought was widespread across much of the Great Plains, with moderate to extreme drought in parts of central to west Texas. Moderate to severe drought was present in parts of the Northwest, northern Rockies, Southwest and Florida as well as moderate drought in parts of the Mid-Atlantic and Puerto Rico.

Drought or abnormally dry conditions expanded or intensified in parts of the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and central Plains this month. Drought contracted or was reduced in intensity across western parts of the Great Plains, the Florida peninsula, parts of the West and in western Puerto Rico.

Monthly Outlook

According to the May 31 One-Month Outlook from the Climate Prediction Center, areas from the Northwest to the Ohio River Valley and into the Northeast, along the Gulf Coast and from northern Alaska to the Panhandle favor above-normal monthly average temperatures in June, with the greatest odds in Washington and parts of the northern Plains. The best chances for below-normal temperatures are forecast from southern California to the central Rockies and in parts of southwest Alaska. Much of the Northwest to southern Plains, as well as parts of Florida and southwest Alaska, are favored to see above-normal monthly total precipitation.Below-normal precipitation is most likely to occur from the northern Plains to the Great Lakes and in the interior parts of central and eastern Alaska. Drought improvement or removal is forecast across much of the Plains and portions of the northern Rockies and Florida, while persistence is more likely in portions of the Northwest, Southwest and parts of the central Plains and northwest Puerto Rico. Drought development is likely from the middle Mississippi Valley to parts of the Northeast and in parts of Hawaii.

According to the One-Month Outlook issued on June 1 from the National Interagency Fire Center, portions of the Northwest, northern Great Lakes and eastern Alaska have above-normal significant wildland fire potential during June, while portions of California and the Southwest are expected to have below-normal potential for the month.

This monthly summary from NOAA’s 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. For more detailed climate information, check out our comprehensive May 2023 U.S. Climate Report scheduled for release on June 13, 2023. For additional information on the statistics provided here, visit the Climate at a Glance and National Maps webpages.

Marshall Fire caused by Xcel Energy power line, reignited junk burn, authorities say: No criminal charges will be filed against Xcel or members of the Twelve Tribes group — #Colorado Newsline

Boulder District Attorney Michael Dougherty shares results from the investigation into the cause of the Marshall Fire, June 8, 2023, in Boulder. (Sara Wilson/Colorado Newsline)

Click the link to read the article on the Colorado Newline website (Sara Wilson):

The Marshall Fire in Boulder County was caused by two distinct ignitions, one sparked by an unmoored Xcel Energy power line and another from embers of a week-old trash fire at the nearby Twelve Tribes property, that eventually merged into the larger fire, investigators announced Thursday.

The Marshall Fire began on Dec. 30, 2021, amid intense high winds and quickly became the most destructive fire in Colorado history, burning over 6,000 acres, damaging more than 1,000 homes in Boulder County, Louisville and Superior, and killing two people.

The Boulder County Sheriff’s Office, in conjunction with the Boulder district attorney and other agencies, concluded its investigation nearly 18 months later.

“I recognize that the investigation into the cause of origin of the Marshall Fire has taken a significant amount of time to complete,” Boulder County Sheriff Curtis Johnson said at a Thursday press conference. “While it took time, I can confidently say that we know what happened and why.”

District Attorney Michael Dougherty said that no criminal charges will be filed against Xcel or Twelve Tribes residents.

One of the fires responsible started at the Marshall Mesa Trailhead, likely due to sparks from a sagging Xcel power line that cast hot particles onto surrounding dry vegetation. The investigation found that the high winds caused the power line to disconnect from its pole and contact other lines.

Johnson said underground coal fires can’t be ruled out as a cause, but the “unmoored” power line is likely to blame.

In the days after the Marshall Fire, Xcel reattached the line to its crossarm despite an Xcel-issued “do not repair order,” to restore power during a freeze. Investigators didn’t find evidence that Xcel repaired the line in order to hide evidence or wrongdoing.

Dougherty said investigators found no evidence of criminal recklessness or negligence by Xcel.

“This is a different discussion and a different decision, if that wire was worn or shoddy or they had maintenance issues in the past. There was no such record of that, no indication of that,” he said.

Xcel disputes the claim that its power line caused the ignition.

“We strongly disagree with any suggestion that Xcel Energy’s power lines caused the second ignition, which according to the report started 80 to 110 feet away from Xcel Energy’s power lines in an area with underground coal fire activity. Xcel Energy did not have the opportunity to review and comment on the analyses relied on by the Sheriff’s Office and believes those analyses are flawed and their conclusions are incorrect,” an Xcel spokesman said in a statement Thursday. They said that after reviewing maintenance records, they believe everything was properly maintained.

There is still the possibility of civil charges against Xcel.

“The information we’ve shared today and conclusions we’ve reached could certainly play a role in civil litigation,” Doughery said.

Marshall Fire December 30, 2021. Photo credit: Boulder County

Twelve Tribes

The other ignition point was at 5325 Eldorado Springs Drive, the site of the property owned by the Twelve Tribes religious group.

Investigators say residents at the property started a fire there on Dec. 24, 2021, to burn old fencing material, tree branches and other junk. Firefighters responded to the property that day, but they were unconcerned with the legal, intentional fire and were satisfied with the residents’ plan to let the fire burn out and extinguish it by burying it. The conditions on Dec. 24 were rainy, damp and cool. The winds were calm and there wasn’t a “red flag” warning in effect.

Less than a week later, however, winds picked up drastically and uncovered smoldering material from the old fire. That ignited a new fire, about an hour before the fire at the trailhead began 2,000 feet away, investigators say. Winds were blowing east on the day of the Marshall Fire. Though the trailhead fire began after the Twelve Tribes fire, it is located south and west of the property. Eventually, the two fires merged, though investigators can’t pinpoint when or where.

Investigators did not find evidence that residents at the property were criminally reckless or had knowledge that their legal, controlled burn on Dec. 24 would reignite and cause the Marshall Fire.

“This fire was terribly destructive and traumatic for so many people. We make our decisions on criminal charges based on evidence, not based on emotion,” Dougherty said. “If we were to tell you that we were filing charges, it would be wrong and it would be unethical.”

Since the Marshall Fire, Boulder County has changed its fire burning ordinance to say that fires should be extinguished with both water and dirt, not just dirt, as the Twelve Tribes residents did.

“I know personally the last 18 months have been hard and not having answers creates stress and challenges that we don’t need,” Johnson, who lost his own home in the fire, said. “And I hope that now we can focus on rebuilding our lives and getting back to our homes and our community.”

The investigative summary and other documents related to the Marshall Fire are posted on the Boulder County Sheriff’s website.

Rivers and streams begin to peak — @AlamosaCitizen #SanLuisValley #RioGrande #runoff

Rio Grande River at South Fork 062023. Photo credit: Alamosa Citizen

Click the link to read the article on the Alamosa Citizen website (Chris Lopez):

THE cooler, cloudy days in May and early June have helped maintain the snowpack in the high country and extended the spring runoff on the Upper Rio Grande and Conejos River systems. 

“It is difficult to tell if we are going to see a higher peak in the near future than what we have seen so far this spring, but it is definitely possible on some of the river systems,” Craig Cotten, Division 3 engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources told Alamosa Citizen this week. 

“I am fairly certain that we will see a higher combined flow (Conejos plus Platoro storage) in the near future on the Conejos River than what we have seen before,” Cotten said.

Terrace Reservoir

Terrace Reservoir in Conejos County is close to being full now, and Platoro Reservoir will get close to full from runoff, Cotten said. 

Platoro Reservoir. Photo credit: Rio de la Vista

Neither reservoir has filled in the last 20 years, Cotten said. But this year is different, giving indication to the amount of water in the 2023 spring runoff.

The National Weather Service is forecasting a warmer trend ahead. There’s an expectation of an El Niño summer materializing, which would bring a warmer and dry July and August.

Ahead of new #ColoradoRiver talks, governments and tribes weigh in on the future — KUNC #COriver #aridification #ActOnClimate

USBR Commissioner Touton giving a diplomatic speech at Getches-Wilkinson/Water and Tribes Initiative conference, outlining the ongoing federal spending and the upcoming SEIS revisions. One big upshot from her: There’s no reason to believe this winter wasn’t a “one-off.” Photo credit: Kyle Roerink via Twitter:

Click the link to read the article on the KUNC website (Alex Hager). Here’s an excerpt:

Hot on the heels of a short-term agreement to cut back on Colorado River water use, states are looking ahead to talks about more permanent cuts. The Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency which manages the West’s water, announced that those negotiations will formally begin next week with a notice in the Federal Register. The announcement came at an environmental law conference in Boulder, Colorado on Thursday [June 8, 2023], where scientists, state and federal governments, and tribes met at the University of Colorado’s law school…

It still remains unclear how exactly the states plan to arrive at permanent cutbacks that will likely be painful to some of the farms and cities that depend on the river’s water, which flows to tens of millions of people and a multi-billion dollar agriculture industry. Pressed for details, state leaders shared little beyond high-level ideas about the need for water conservation across all seven states that use the Colorado River…Becky Mitchell, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, emphasized that post-2026 guidelines need to “acknowledge that climate change is real.”


Camille Calimlim Touton, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, shared new details about the agency’s upcoming plans for water management. The agency has withdrawn its draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement while it reviews the proposal, and plans to arrive at a final plan – or “Record of Decision” – by the end of 2023. Reclamation has so far been tight-lipped with details about negotiations related to the 2026 deadline, but Touton said the agency will “formally advance” the process for those multi-year talks starting the week of June 12. Starting the process next week, she said, will allow the agency to publish a new draft SEIS by the end of 2024…

A panel with representatives from 13 tribes spoke about the evolving role of tribes in water negotiations. Officials and attorneys spoke about their current struggles to maintain steady access to clean water, the historic aggression and exclusion that drove them away from water management and the need for tribes’ input as talks continue.

Hopi tribal members collecting spring water at Yam’taqa –Place of ever-flowing water- (vasey’s paradise) in the Grand Canyon. Photo credit: From the Earth Studio

Although Indigenous people in the Southwest have been using Colorado River water longer than any other group in the region, they have largely been excluded from discussions about how the river is shared. The 30 federally-recognized tribes that use the river control about a quarter of its flow, but most lack the money and infrastructure to use their full allotments. Tribal leaders said their millennia-long history in the region could offer lessons for the future of water management.