Soil moisture, snowpack data help inform new forecast modeling
Some droughts creep up on you, while others seem to come out of nowhere, like in 2012 when spring came early and a hot, dry summer parched fields and forests and led to a busy wildfire season, including the destructive Waldo Canyon blaze near Colorado Springs.
Seasonal forecasts issued in May 2012 did not foresee a drought forming in the country’s midsection. But by the end of August, the drought had spread across the Midwest, parching Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri. Now, after analyzing conditions leading up to the drough, researchers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, say similar droughts in the future could be predicted by paying close attention to key indicators like snowmelt and soil moisture. Continue reading “Study eyes ‘flash drought’ forecasts”→
Much of West reports record-fast meltdown under El Niño heat
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”→
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”→
FRISCO — Flows in the Lower Blue River, below Dillon Dam, are going up again.
With snowmelt speeding up under warm and sunny skies, Denver is boosting the outflow to 1,800 cfs to avoid a scenario where Dillon Reservoir spills at a level that causes outflows to go over that level.
That’s exactly what could happen without upping controlled releases now, Denver Water spokesman Matt Wittern said via email.
“Our experts predict that, if we maintained 1,700 cfs outflow and inflows remain around 2,400, Dillon Reservoir would be full and spilling within a week,” Wittern said. That could bring excessive flows and the potential for flooding below Dillon Reservoir.
Wittern said Denver Water is estimating the remaining snowpack in the Blue River as equivalent to between five and seven inches of water near Hoosier and Fremont passes.
That snow is melting fast, with no letup in sight. Inflows from runoff into Dillon Reservoir averaged 2,467 cfs Tuesday, which was well above current and planned outflows. And those inflows aren’t expected to drop below 1,700 cfs in the next seven days, which means Dillon Reservoir will continue to fill quickly, at the rate of about six inches per day. As of Wednesday, the reservoir was 3.25 feet below capacity.
Wittern also explained that Denver Water can’t legally divert water through the Roberts Tunnel if it’s not needed.
“Right now water levels are very high on the South PIatte River, eliminating this action as an option,” he said.
Troy Wineland, state water commissioner for the Blue River, said property owners in the Lower Blue who face flooding risks can prepare by perusing Summit County’s High Water Preparedness” manual which includes instructions on sandbag preparation and placement, as well as free sand / bag supply locations.
Wineland also said water users in the Lower Blue should be aware that higher flows will push more water through diversions, possibly over-topping in irrigation ditches.
Staff ReportFRISCO — Statewide precipitation was more than twice the average, federal water watchers said in their June update. The rain and snow, along with cool temperatures at higher elevations, delayed the onset of runoff and boosted streamflow forecasts for the summer. “This substantial addition of moisture, both in the form of snow and rain have notably increased water supply forecasts across the state from a month ago,” said Brian Domonkos, the Colorado snow survey supervisor for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Continue reading “May precipitation breaks records in southern Colorado”→
FRISCO — Late-season storms have helped boost snowpack in the Blue River to near last year’s level, promising healthy runoff and flows in Summit County, according to Denver Water.
The effects of the steady barrage of spring storms is already showing up the Lower Blue River, where flows are increasing due to increased releases from Dillon Reservoir, according to Denver Water, which won’t be diverting water through the Roberts Tunnel until mid-July at the earliest. Continue reading “Colorado: Big flows expected in Blue River”→
FRISCO — While spring snow and rain have slightly eased Colorado water woes, the situation is more serious in the northwestern part of the state, where three large rural counties have been designated as a contiguous disaster areas due to drought.
Senator Michael Bennet announced the designation today, saying that the U.S. Department of Agriculture declaration makes farm operators in thise counties eligible to be considered for federal assistance, including Farm Service Agency emergency loans.
“Producers on Colorado’s western slope have faced drought conditions that are damaging their goods and hurting local economies,” Bennet said. “These disaster designations will allow farmers and ranchers to access critical assistance to help them deal with any losses to crops or livestock.”
Producers in counties designated as primary or contiguous disaster areas are eligible to be considered for FSA emergency loans. Farmers in eligible counties have eight months from the date of the disaster declaration to apply for assistance. Local FSA offices can provide affected farmers and ranchers with additional information.
The drought declaration came after a winter of well-below normal snowfall and near-record warmth in the region.