Forecasts predict continued dry conditions in Western states
WASHINGTON, Feb. 13, 2013 – According to USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service National Water and Climate Center, the February streamflow forecast predicts a decline in nearly every state and basin.
The dry conditions continue from the less-than-average precipitation during January, which indicates reduced spring and summer water supply for much of the West.
“January wasn’t near the snow accumulation month we wanted it to be, but it wasn’t a hard kick in the shin either,” NRCS hydrologist in Utah Randy Julander said. “We’ve seen far worse in the past.”
The winter snow season still has two months left, he said, and if there’s average or above-average accumulation in February and March, much of the West will recover.
However, if the remaining season turns out dry, water supply conditions could end up in the 50 to 70 percent of average range. Consecutive dry years would have negative impacts on agricultural production.
“We will be anxiously monitoring the snowpack for the remainder of the season,” he said.
Affected areas include all of Washington, western Oregon, nearly all of Idaho, and most of Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and Colorado. Similarly, February streamflow forecasts for most of the West will generally be lower than the previous month.
Water supply conditions are improving in parts of the West: average levels of precipitation in January fell over southwestern Idaho/northeastern Nevada; the Flathead, Marias, and Musselshell basins in Montana; and northeastern Wyoming and southwestern Colorado. Above normal precipitation fell along the Mogollon Rim in central Arizona and the Cheyenne Basin in eastern Wyoming.
“USDA streamflow forecasts play a vital role in the livelihood of so many Americans,” said Acting NRCS Chief Jason Weller. “With much of this region greatly affected by drought, we will continue to monitor snowpack data and ensure that we are ready to help farmers, ranchers and communities plan and prepare for water supply conditions.”
In addition to precipitation, streamflow in the West consists largely of accumulated mountain snow that melts and flows into streams as temperatures warm into spring and summer. The February forecast is the second of six monthly forecasts issued each year between January and June by the National Water and Climate Center. The forecast compares the current level of water content in snowpack in the 12 western states with historical data to help the region’s farmers, ranchers, water managers, communities and other stakeholders make informed decisions about water use and future availability.
“Although the NRCS streamflow forecasts do not directly predict drought, they provide valuable information about future water supply in states where snowmelt accounts for as much as 50 to 80 percent of seasonal runoff,” said Tom Perkins of the national water and climate center.
Though February’s forecasts indicate drying conditions, the snowfall, air temperature and numerous other factors ultimately contribute to water supply. Typically, decision-makers and water managers wait until April for a more complete picture that accounts for these variables before making final management decisions.
NRCS will continue to monitor levels across the Western states to provide the most up-to-date water supply information each month.
Since 1935, NRCS has conducted snow surveys and issued regular water supply forecasts. NRCS installs, operates and maintains an extensive, automated system called Snow Telemetry, or SNOTEL, designed to collect snowpack and related climatic data in the Western United States and Alaska.
View February’s Snow Survey Water Supply Forecast report and map or view information by state.
Other resources on drought include the U.S. Drought Monitorand U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook map, which forecast drought conditions through March 31. For information on USDA’s drought efforts, visit www.usda.gov/drought.
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