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Dry Conditions Expected To Persist In Western States

Light winter snows limit streamflow forecast

Published on: Feb 15, 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.

Light winter snows limit streamflow forecast; NRCS says if February and March are better theres a chance for recovery.
Light winter snows limit streamflow forecast; NRCS says if February and March are better there's a chance for recovery.

However, if the remaining season turns out dry, water supply conditions could end up in the 50% to 70% 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."

"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% 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.

Dry Conditions Expected To Persist In Western States