As record snowfalls and rain have helped loosen the grip of drought in parts of the west U.S., national forecasters and climate experts warned that certain areas could see more flooding once the snow melts.
California’s winter precipitation has wiped out extreme and exceptional drought for the first time since 2020, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This report came at a time when parts of the state were under water. Flood warnings were issued in Nevada and some evacuations were ordered overnight in one Arizona tourist town.
A NOAA forecast also warned of high flood risks due to heavy snowpack in the Upper Midwest, from Minnesota southward to Missouri.
Experts cautioned against the temporary relief, pointing out that long-term effects of the dry spell will continue.
The historic lows of groundwater and reservoir storage — which takes longer to rebound — are still evident. It may take more than a full year for the additional moisture to have an impact on Lake Mead’s shoreline, which straddles Arizona & Nevada. It’s unlikely that water managers have enough time to rescind their proposals to limit water use.
This is because the year has already been set for water release and retention operations at the reservoir and its sibling, Lake Powell on Utah’s Arizona border. These reservoirs manage water deliveries from the Colorado River to 40 million people in seven U.S. States and Mexico.
MYSTERIOUS FRESHWATER RESERVOIR FOUND HIDDEN BENEATH THE OCEAN
Lake Powell could rise 35 feet when snow melts and flows into rivers and tributaries over the next three-months. It will rise depending on soil moisture, future precipitation, temperatures, and evaporation losses.
Paul Miller, a National Weather Service hydrologist at the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, stated that although it sounds like a lot of water, it will still be one-third full.
Miller stated that “it’s definitely moving forward, but we are far from filling up the reservoirs in Colorado River System and we are far from being at an acceptable point from a supply perspective,” during Thursday’s NOAA briefing.
Federal forecasters also provided other forecasts for temperature, precipitation, and drought over the next three-months. They stated that the spring wet season will likely improve drought conditions in parts of the northern Plains and Florida by June.
The West has been more dry and wet than usual for over 20 years. Many areas will continue to feel the effects. Over the spring, drought will likely increase in the northern Rockies and Washington State. However, areas of extreme or exceptional drought will likely persist across the southern High Plains.
Oregon has declared an emergency to warn of increased water shortages and wildfire dangers in the central region. Some areas of central Utah, eastern New Mexico, and southeastern Colorado are still experiencing extreme drought.
Ranchers in the arid state are already planning for another dry season, while some residents still are reeling from the historic wildfire season.
BODY of UTAH TEEN RECOVERED AFTER HE BLEW THROUGH ICE AT RESERVOIR
Jon Gottschalck is the chief of the operational prediction branch of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. He said that the beginning of the fire season for the Southwest U.S. will likely be delayed.
He said, “But it doesn’t mean it couldn’t end up being very strong season.” It’s likely to be a less tense start for sure.
Gottschalck stated that New Mexico and Oklahoma will see warmer temperatures than normal. This is also true for Texas, Texas, and the Gulf Coast. Also, the east coast and eastern seaboards of Texas, along with Hawaii and northern Alaska. He said that temperatures will be lower than usual in North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska, as well as the Great Basin area.
The Great Basin, which runs from Utah’s Wasatch Mountains to the Sierra Nevada, has been the winter standout. This season, it has received more snow than any of the previous seasons. This is notable considering that only 2017 and 2019 had snowpacks above the median in the past decade.
Miller stated that the Lower Colorado Basin has “basically blown past all sorts of averages, normals,” similar to other western basins.
Tony Caligiuri is the president of Colorado Open Lands preservation group. He said that all the recent precipitation should not hinder work to recharge groundwater supplies.
He said that the problem with these episodic wet years is that they can decrease the urgency to address long-term water conservation and usage issues.
The group is currently experimenting in San Luis Valley, southern Colorado, where the Rio Grande’s headwaters are. The Rio Grande is North America’s longest river. It and its reservoirs are struggling because of a lack of snowpack, drought long-term, and the constant demands. The summer in Albuquerque saw it dry, and the managers didn’t have enough water to replenish flows.
Colorado Open Lands reached an arrangement with a farmer to allow him to stop irrigating his roughly 1,000-acre farm and retire his land. Caligiuri explained that the goal is to remove a significant straw from the aquifer. This will allow the savings to be used to support other farms in the area and eliminate the risk of them having to shut down their wells.
He said that he has seen how multiple good years can be in place, such as the San Luis Valley with regards to snowpack or rainfall. But then, one drought year can wipe out a decade’s worth of progress. “So, you can’t just stick your head in sand because you have one good year of rain.”