Study says global warming will bring drought to western U.S. sooner rather than later

Historical water data not a good basis for planning; strategic planning and prompt action needed

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Many parts of the world could experience serious drought by mid-century.

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The western U.S. may already be in a new drought regime driven by global warming.

Staff Report

FRISCO —The western U.S. will likely be one of the first places to experience unprecedented drought driven by climate change, according to new research by scientists with the Vienna-based International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. Continue reading

Major water woes looming in the West

Record low streamflows expected in many areas this summer

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Precipitation for the 2015 water year- to-date is now below normal over most of the West except for some northwestern areas. The dry March has significantly affected this picture since a month ago, when far more of the West was near normal.

Staff Report

FRISCO —Federal water watchers say their April 1 readings show that precipitation thus far in the 2015 water year (beginning October 1, 2014) is now below normal over most of the West except for some northwestern areas and coastal Alaska.

Snowpack has declined significantly since last month throughout the West due to the warm and dry March. Only high- elevation areas in the Rocky Mountains and Interior Alaska retain somewhat near normal snowpack.

Streamflow forecasts have dropped since last month due to a lack of snow accumulation during March and an early snowmelt, with most regions now expecting below normal streamflow. Reservoir storage is currently below normal in the Southwest and Nevada, with near to above normal storage elsewhere. Continue reading

Clmate: Western snowpack dwindling fast

Not much relief from El Niño

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This west-wide map shows that not a single river basin the West has an above-average snowpack as of April 2, 2015.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Unless there’s a drastic change in the weather the next few weeks, 2015 will become one of those poster-child years for how global warming will affect the West. By early April — when the snowpack usually peaks across the region’s mountains — many areas were already seeing a decline. In the Rocky Mountains, the snowpack in nearly every river basin was at least 30 percent below average, while picture in the Far West was even more grim. Continue reading

One more time: Beetle-killed forests are NOT more likely to burn, according to new CU-Boulder study

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Beetle-killed lodgepole pines in Colorado. bberwyn photo.

New CU-Boulder study has implications for forest managers and Red Zone communities

Staff Report

*More Summit Voice stories on beetle-kill and forests here.

FRISCO — Communities and resource managers looking to address the threat of wildfires should focus less on tree-killing beetles and more on the underlying forces driving the trend toward larger fires.

Warmer temperatures and increased drought are the key factors, said Colorado-based researchers who took a close look at patterns of beetle-kill and wildfires in recent years.

Their study found that western forests killed by mountain pine beetles are no more at risk to burn than healthy forests. Those findings  fly in the face of both public perception and policy, the scientists acknowledged.

“What we are seeing in this study is that at broad scales, fire does not necessarily follow mountain pine beetles,” said CU-Boulder Research Scientist Tania Schoennagel, of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. “It’s well known, however, that fire does follow drought.” Continue reading

Wildfire season starts slow for 2d year in a row

Continued Western drought, warmth set stage for significant wildfires later this summer

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After a dry and warm winter, southern Alaska will have a better than average chance of signficant wildfire activity this spring. Map via NIFC.

By Bob Berwyn

Western wildfires have always been shape-shifting beasts, roaring to life wherever there is hot and dry weather, wind and fuel. But last year’s relatively cool and wet summer brought relief to parts of the region — including Colorado — that had been especially hard the previous few years.

The 2015 wildfire season is starting similarly slow to last year, according to statistics from the National Interagency Fire Center showing that, since January 1, there have been about 6,200 fires that burned across a 100,000 acre footprint, just 30 percent of the average from the past 10 years. Continue reading

How long will California’s drought continue?

Snowpack at record low levels

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A NASA Earth Observatory photo shows dry conditions in California in Jan. 2014.

Staff Report

FRISCO — The snowpack in some key California watersheds is at or near all-time record low, the state’s water managers reported this week after conducting their monthly surveys.

At one site, west of Sacramento in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the California Department of Water Resources reported less than 1 inch of water content in the snowpack, just 5 percent of the March 3 historical average for that site. Snowpack measurements are online here. Continue reading

Can global warming cause wars?

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A NASA Earth Observatory map shows the rainfall deficit during the 2006-2010 drought across the fertile crescent of Iraq and Syria.

Population growth, drought and poor governance combined to spur 2011 Syria uprising

Staff Report

FRISCO — A sustained drought in the Middle East, driven by global warming, may have been a key trigger for the brutal war in Syria, according to researchers. The drought, lasting from 2006 to 2010, destroyed agriculture in northern Syria, forcing farmers into cities, where poverty, government mismanagement and other factors created unrest that exploded in spring 2011.

“We’re not saying the drought caused the war,” said Richard Seager, a climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory who coauthored a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “We’re saying that added to all the other stressors, it helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict. And a drought of that severity was made much more likely by the ongoing human-driven drying of that region.” Continue reading

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