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Less-than-Average Water Supplies Possible in Some Western States

Contact: Sarah Maxwell, (202) 720-0693

January 2013 Spring and Summer Streamflow Forecast
Seasonal Water Supply Forecasts – as of January 1, 2013 (Alaska not forecast in January). The Pacific Northwest States (ID, OR, and WA) show the greatest expected runoff while much of the 4-Corner States and Wyoming show the least.
January 2013 Seasonal Precipitation
Percent of normal precipitation for the 2013 Water Year through December has favored the northern and western regions of the West with surplus amounts.
January 2013 Mountain Snowpack
Mountain Snowpack as of January 1, 2013 - A rather complex pattern of surplus and deficit snow cover dominated the West. The West Coast States and Western Slopes of the Rockies experienced surpluses while the Great Basin-Western Interior Regions and Eastern Slope of the Rockies had deficits.

January stream flow forecasts from USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) National Water and Climate Center have indicated less-than-average water supplies this spring and summer in rivers and streams in western states currently impacted by drought.

“USDA streamflow forecasts play a vital role in the livelihood of so many Americans,” said ActingNRCS 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.”

Colorado and New Mexico could be especially hard hit, along with large parts of Arizona, Utah and Wyoming. The Northwest, however, is forecast to have above-average streamflow, helping supply water in several drought-affected areas of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. Forecast data for California is collected by the California Department of Water Resources.

In addition to precipitation, streamflow in the West consists largely of accumulated snow in mountains that melts and flows into rivers and streams as temperatures warm into spring and summer. The January forecast is the first 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 what’s happened over the past 30 years to help the region’s farmers, ranchers, water managers, communities and many others make informed decisions about how to use water.

Although NRCS’ streamflow forecasts do not directly predict drought, they provide valuable information about future water supply in states where snowmelt accounts for 50-80 percent of seasonal runoff.

Though January’s results are in, rainfall, snowfall, air temperature and numerous other factors ultimately contribute to water supply. Typically, decision-makers and water managers wait until March or April for a more complete picture that accounts for these variables before making final management decisions.

NRCS will continue to monitor levels in snow gages across the Western states to provide the most up-to-date water supply information each month.

Since 1935, NRCS has conducted snow surveys and developed regular water supply forecasts. NRCS installs, operates, and maintains an extensive, automated system called Snowpack Telemetry SNOTEL, designed to collect snowpack and related climatic data in the Western United States and Alaska. 

View January’s Snow Survey Water Supply Forecast report summary, and map or view information by state or basin.

Other resources on drought include the U.S. Drought Monitor and U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook map, which forecast drought conditions through March 31. For information on USDA’s drought efforts, visit

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USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service helps America’s farmers and ranchers conserve the Nation’s soil, water, air and other natural resources. All programs are voluntary and offer science-based solutions that benefit both the landowner and the environment.

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