Western Slope Snowpack Rises Above Average but Forecast for Eastern Plains Remains “Bleak”

Snowfall in western Colorado elevated some snowpack levels to above-average conditions but that snowy weather must continue for it to recharge the parched soil, diminishing streams and low reservoir levels, climate data shows.

While the Western Slope is in much better shape than it was in early December, Becky Bolinger, a climatologist with Colorado State University, said the eastern portion of the state hasn’t been so fortunate. There, wildfire risk persists and crops and livestock could suffer from the lack of moisture, she said.

These Four Metrics Are Used to Track Drought, and They Paint a Bleak Picture

Drought has tightened its grip on the Western U.S., as dry conditions tick on into their second decade and strain a river that supplies 40 million people. Experts agree that things are bad and getting worse. But how exactly do you measure a drought, and how can you tell where it’s going?

Brad Udall is an expert on the subject, studying water and climate at Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Center. Lately, his forecasts for the basin haven’t been particularly uplifting.

Colorado River Runoff Plunges, Raising Shortage Concerns

Record and near-record low flows on the Upper Colorado River this summer and fall have dramatically and abruptly worsened the outlook for the entire river and the Central Arizona Project over the next two years. Low flows into Lake Powell led federal officials to sharply reduce their forecasts for how high Lake Mead will be next year. That has ratcheted up the odds that the first major shortage in CAP deliveries will occur in 2022, cutting off some supplies to Central Arizona farmers.

Changes in Snowmelt Threaten Farmers in Western U.S.

For decades, scientists have thought that changes in snowmelt due to climate change could negatively impact agriculture. Now, a new study reveals the risks to agriculture around the world from changes in snowmelt, finding that farmers in parts of the western United States who rely on snowmelt to help irrigate crops will be among the hardest hit in the world by climate change.

In a study published April 20 in Nature Climate Change, an interdisciplinary team of researchers analyzed monthly irrigation water demand with snowmelt runoff across global basins from 1985 to 2015. The goal was to determine where irrigated agriculture has depended on snowmelt runoff in the past and how that might change with a warming climate.