Category: Snow and weather

April storms boost Colorado snowpack

Much of West reports record-fast meltdown under El Niño heat

Colorado snowpack May 1 2016
April storms boosted Colorado’s snowpack, with near average runoff and river flows expected during the spring and summer in most parts of the state.
Colorado snowpack map
Southern parts of Colorado have not had above average snowpack readings for several years in a row, which could be part of the “new normal” in the global warming era

Staff Report

April storms helped boost Colorado’s statewide snowpack to above average, but two river basins in the southern part of the state continue to report below normal readings.

The state’s mountain areas benefited the most from a series of wet, El Niño-fueled storms, bringing precipitation for the water year to average, according to Brian Domonkos, the Colorado snow survey supervisor for the USDA Natural Resources conservation service.

“At this time last year the water supply outlook was grim at best,” Domonkos said. “Colorado’s current snowpack and precipitation levels are right where we want to be this time of year. Elsewhere in the Western United States seasonal snowpack during 2016 succumbed to early spring warming and did not recover as Colorado did from recent storms,” he added. Continue reading “April storms boost Colorado snowpack”

SW Europe faces greatest multi-hazard climate risks

Europe drought and climate change
In early December 2015 the European Alps were mostly free of snow during a lengthy dry period. @bberwyn photo.

Flooding, droughts and wildfires all expected to increase

Staff Report

New European climate modeling doesn’t paint a pretty picture for the decades ahead. With global warming, Europe is facing a progressively stronger increase in multiple climate hazards, according to the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre.

Early in the 21st century, reported losses from extreme weather are already at historically high levels, and climate change is likely to increase the risk, the researchers concluded in a new paper presented late April at the European Geosciences Union annual assembly in Vienna. Continue reading “SW Europe faces greatest multi-hazard climate risks”

Climate: Snowpack dwindles across southern Colorado

‘Every El Niño is different’

western precipitation map 2016
Precipitation across the West has been patchy for the water year to-date.

Staff Report

March snowfall across the Colorado mountains helped maintain the statewide snowpack near average for the water year to-date, but the strong El Niño hasn’t played out as expected.

Instead of boosting moisture in the southwestern corner of Colorado, this year’s edition of the Pacific Ocean warm-water cycle sent the storm track surging into the Pacific Northwest and then down across Colorado’s northern mountains. Northeastern Colorado has been the wettest of all, with a wide section of the plains seeing up to double the average annual rainfall so far.

That’s bad news for the Southwest, where moisture has been sparse for the past several years. Western New Mexico, most of Arizona and the southern California deserts and coast have been especially dry since the start of the rainy season. Regionally, snowpack in the Colorado River Basin above Lake Powell was 94 percent of average as of March 17, and the Federal Bureau of Reclamation is projecting that the inflow to Lake Powell will be just 80 percent of average for the April to July period. Continue reading “Climate: Snowpack dwindles across southern Colorado”

Climate: Warmer springtime temps cut Colorado River flows

A wintry icescape along the Blue River north of Silverthorne, Colorado.
A wintry icescape along the Blue River north of Silverthorne, Colorado.

It’s not just the snowpack

Staff Report

A new study showing the link between warmer spring temperatures and decreased river flows could spell more challenges for water managers trying to stretch supplies from major western rivers.

The research suggests that warmer-than-average spring temperatures may have a bigger effect on upper Colorado River flows than expected.

“Forecasts of stream flow are largely based on precipitation,” said University of Arizona professor Connie Woodhouse. “What we’re seeing since the 1980s is that temperature plays a larger role in stream flow and in exacerbating drought, said Wodehouse. Continue reading “Climate: Warmer springtime temps cut Colorado River flows”

Climate: U.S. West very dry in February

Very dry across the West in February 2016.
Very dry across the West in February 2016.

Where’s El Niño?

Staff Report

El Niño didn’t exactly go gangbusters in southwest Colorado last month, where the key river basins received only about 35 percent of average February precipitation. Statewide mountain precipitation was only slightly better, at 56 percent of normal.

“February in the mountains of Colorado is typically a slightly drier month than compared to say, April. But a dry February like this could have big ramifications should April and May not pan out” said Brian Domonkos, Snow Survey Supervisor with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Continue reading “Climate: U.S. West very dry in February”

Wildlife: Wintry weather to take toll on Colorado mule deer

Mule deer enjoying an abundance of January forage as a sustained warm spell has melted low-elevation snowpack in Colorado.
Last year, mild winter conditions eased foraging conditions for ungulates, but this year’s cold temps and deep snow could result in increase mortality. @bberwyn photo.

‘Wildlife has been experiencing and surviving severe weather for eons without human intervention’

Staff Report

Harsh winter conditions in northwestern Colorado may take a toll on already struggling mule deer herds, state biologists said last week, explaining that they’ve started a limited feeding program to try and keep ungulates from invading cattle grazing areas.

The recent storms have created conditions ranking among the most extreme in the past 35 years. Temperatures dropping well below zero and deep powder snow atop brittle crusts are making it harder for deer and elk to forage and could lead to increased wildlife mortality in portions of the region unless the weather moderates significantly, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Continue reading “Wildlife: Wintry weather to take toll on Colorado mule deer”

Snowshoe hares face climate change challenge

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Can snowshoe hares survive global warming? Photo courtesy Kim Fenske.

‘That mismatch does indeed kill’

Staff Report

For millennia, snowshoe hares have camouflaged themselves from predators by blending in with their surroundings, turning pure white in the winter to blend in with the snow, then brown in the summer.

But climate change is shifting the timing of the snow season, and the hares may not be able to adapt in time, according to a North Carolina State University study published in the journal Ecology Letters.

Based on field research with radio-collared snowshoe hares in Montana, mismatched snowshoe hares suffer a 7 percent drop in their weekly survival rate when snow comes late or leaves early and white hares stand out to predators like “light bulbs” against their snowless backgrounds. Continue reading “Snowshoe hares face climate change challenge”