Report: Near Normal Snowpack in Most of the West


From the National Water and Climate Center

Parts of the Southwest remain dry

WASHINGTON, April 8, 2016 – During March, the Northwest received above average precipitation and the Southwest dried out, according to data from the fourth 2016 forecast by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“Early April is when the snowpack peaks in many areas,” NRCS Hydrologist Cara McCarthy said. “And we’re seeing near-normal snowpack in much of the West, though parts of the Southwest are lagging behind. This year’s El Niño brought us a few surprises.”

Read the full West-wide forecast or view information by state.

In Western states where snowmelt accounts for the majority of seasonal water supply, information about snowpack serves as an indicator of future water availability. The wildland fire community closely watches snowpack and water supply availability predictions as limited snowpack and the rate of snowmelt are two of the many factors that affect the severity of wildland fire season in the West.

Streamflow in the West consists largely of accumulated mountain snowmelt that flows into streams as temperatures warm in spring and summer. NRCS scientists analyze the snowpack, precipitation, air temperature and other measurements taken from remote sites to develop the water supply forecasts.

NRCS has installed more than 800 high-elevation weather stations, known as SNOTEL sites. These remote, automated sites transmit hourly updates on snowpack conditions, greatly enhancing data collection and forecast accuracy. All of the data is free and available online.

Producers, businesses and state and federal agencies use forecasts in many ways. “Earlier this year, water users on Utah’s Sevier, Southwest and Virgin Rivers were preparing to release water from their respective dams in anticipation of abundant El Niño precipitation,” said Utah Hydrologist Randy Julander. “However, when NRCS’ forecasts showed much less snow than they expected, they reversed course. Now they’re storing every drop they can.”

Water supply forecasts are a consideration in drought declarations. “In 2015, snowpack and precipitation data were used to make drought designations that ranged from moderate drought to extreme drought across most of the counties in the state,” said Montana Hydrologist Lucas Zukiewicz. “This helped a lot of producers qualify for assistance in areas with lingering designations of severe drought and above.”

The water supply forecast, typically issued monthly from January to May, is one of several ways USDA works to improve public awareness and manage the impacts of climate change, including drought and other extreme weather events. Through the National Drought Resilience Partnership, federal agencies are working closely with states, tribes and local governments to develop a coordinated response to drought.

NRCS provides science-based conservation solutions to farmers and ranchers that help mitigate the effects of drought and prepare against future weather events. These practices enable farmers and ranchers to use water more efficiently as well as boost the health of soil, which is better able to store water for when it is needed most. For information on assistance, visit Getting Started with NRCS.

For information on USDA’s drought mitigation efforts, visit USDA Drought Programs and Assistance. To learn more about how NRCS is helping private landowners adapt to changing climate conditions including drought, visit the NRCS’ drought resources.


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Peter Sable
April 8, 2016 8:27 am
Juan Slayton
Reply to  Peter Sable
April 8, 2016 5:07 pm

NASA/JPL is working to gauge snowpack from the air:

David A
Reply to  Juan Slayton
April 11, 2016 6:09 am

Does either system give snowpack water content? This year in Ca water content is very high.

Shanghai Dan
Reply to  Peter Sable
April 8, 2016 7:34 pm

If you put more SNOTEL sites in California, it may impact the rare pine nut snail darter habitat. But trust Sacramento, we don’t have enough water and you’ll have to take fewer showers. And pay more.

Neil Jordan
April 8, 2016 8:37 am

Today’s California Water News carries a surprising item (for CA):
Climate-change models wrong on predicting rain, drought extremes: study
By Valerie Richardson – The Washington Times – Thursday, April 7, 2016
“A newly released international study debunks climate models on global warming that forecast extreme rainfall and drought tied to temperature swings, casting doubt on disaster scenarios promoted by the climate-change movement.
“The study in the journal Nature published Thursday examining Northern Hemisphere rainfall data going back 1,200 years found that today’s climate models were frequently wrong on predicting extreme rain and drought.”
Link to Nature article:
“. . .We compare the reconstructed hydroclimate anomalies with coupled atmosphere–ocean general circulation model simulations and find reasonable agreement during pre-industrial times. However, the intensification of the twentieth-century-mean hydroclimate anomalies in the simulations, as compared to previous centuries, is not supported by our new multi-proxy reconstruction. This finding suggests that much work remains before we can model hydroclimate variability accurately, and highlights the importance of using palaeoclimate data to place recent and predicted hydroclimate changes in a millennium-long context16, 17.”

April 8, 2016 8:52 am

USDA is reporting less snow than has been reported all winter in the Colorado River Basin and the Sierra Nevada? Ahhh we have sprouted a new “community” that needs these kind of readings to access emergency funds….tada..”.the wildland fire fighting community” Ask any Ranchers and Farmers about how much money is wasted running the wildland fire fighting community around in very expensive support vehicles with full on catered support operations to NOT actually engage in the dangerous business of fighting fire. If fact with all that money spent it might be interesting to survey how many fires have been actually extinguished by local farmer and rancher volunteers using their own equipment while the “wildland fire fighting community” looked on and succeeded in naming the fires such that those names flowed Euphoniously from the lips of breathless gender neutral reporters who picked up the twice a day reports from the forest service about how well the farmers and ranchers were doing at containing that fire and keeping it from destroying their livelihoods.

Doug Bunge
April 8, 2016 9:16 am

Average over what time frame?

Hocus Locus
April 8, 2016 9:22 am

This story is almost boring! What a relief. Thank you Anthony for reporting on the most under-reported aspect of climate these days… the idea that we are surrounded by natural cycles OH MY GOD WE’RE ALL MELTING IN A FREAKING GREENHOUSE EVERYONES GONNA DIE and even with regional variability the system does have ways to ‘correct’ itself because it has evolved that way. You name it— every one of Man’s contributions has, in some OH NOES OCEANS ARE RISING BLUB BLUB RUN FOR YOUR LIVES HURRICANE GONNA GET U measure, occurred in past eons from natural forces… and *IF* the planet was actually on a hair-trigger as some OCEANS ACIDIFYING NO NO TURNING TO FLESH-MELTING EVIL SCIENTIST VAT FOR DISPOSING OF MISTAKES KIND OF ACID WE’RE DOOOMED people get endorphin rushes by believing… we’d see lots of evidence of extremes with fast onset. Instead we see BILL NYE WHAT A GUY WANNA BEAT DEM DENIERS TO A BLOODY PULP WITH THE WHOOPIN’ STICK OF SCIENCE a few fast transitions with clear causes (volcanism, comet) surrounded by millennia of gradual changes… the stuff that humans can take charge of OIL COMPANIES SUCKING US DRY NUCLEAR ENERGY POISON DEATH GREEDY INDUSTRIALISTS SCUM SUCKING 1% BASTARDS with plenty of careful observation and resourceful engineering. We are the planet’s own GAIA IS PISSED BOW YOUR HEAD IN SHAME SLASH AND BURN AGRICULTURE IS ORIGINAL SIN TREES ARE WISE ASK MR. OWL FOR ADVICE defense against everything it cannot understand. Because it’s only a dumb planet and we are so smart.

Reply to  Hocus Locus
April 8, 2016 9:50 am

Most people have common sense and can read for comprehension. Increasingly, they are media-savvy also. If something SOUNDS like hyperbole, it probably is. Pretty easy to dismiss out of hand stuff obviously penned to create dramatic click-bait, and most people do. The only people still twisting their hands and sheets about their “carbon footprint” are those that only listen to the voices in the eco-chamber.

April 8, 2016 9:57 am

And the west coast including CA is forecasted to have a wetter than normal upcoming 6 weeks as the upper Midwest goes hot and dry.

April 8, 2016 10:46 am

It snowed here twice today and earlier this week and this is April??? I am gob smacked by this endless cold this year.

Reply to  spaatch
April 8, 2016 2:01 pm

And what bad happened? Just curious.

Rainer Bensch
Reply to  spaatch
April 9, 2016 9:00 am

Hugs, more snails and insects survived. Just wait…

April 8, 2016 11:29 am

Sorry for the off-topic. Didn’t see a good place to post it. New, detailed article on Solar Cycle 24. Just out today.

Reply to  Penelope
April 8, 2016 12:52 pm

Try Tips & Notes, top right under the header.

randy julander
April 8, 2016 1:15 pm

an explanation to Mr. Peter Sable – the reason that California has so few snotel sites is that the state of California decided many years ago to do their own snow surveying whereas all other western states opted to let the NRCS lead the survey program. since SNOTEL is funded thru NRCS – the only sites we have in California are in basins that lead outside the state such as the Tahoe, walker , carson, and a few in northern ca… California operates its own state run snow data gathering system.

Reply to  randy julander
April 9, 2016 8:30 am

There is also a volunteer cooperative:

Reply to  skeohane
April 9, 2016 8:34 am

Strangely, there is no snow pack info from volunteers in California. Here in Colorado there are lots of folks who measure and report it. Does California prohibit reporting the same?

April 8, 2016 6:52 pm

This is good news, but I think the crisis could’ve been lessened if California had managed their water resources more efficiently.

April 8, 2016 6:53 pm

Y’all remember how every event that Al Gore would show up for would be bedeviled by cold and ice and snow, and how shortly after Tim FlimFlam Flannery predicted water supplies drying up permanently for Australian cities that Brisbane suffered severe flooding (and full resevoirs). I think Cali is experiencing a Flannery effect.

John F. Hultquist
April 8, 2016 7:18 pm

The dry side of the Cascades in Washington State has this message in local newspapers today.
The early irrigation districts have “senior” water rights. They will get 100% of their allotments. Later entities or “junior” rights holders will likely get 100%, also. That may drop to 95% if the next couple of months are dry.

April 8, 2016 7:47 pm

As of today, California is reported to be at 73% of normal snow-water-equivalent statewide, lower in the south, higher in the north:

April 8, 2016 7:53 pm

As of today, California reservoir capacity is reported at 87.34%. with several lakes still far below capacity.

David A
Reply to  Bruce
April 11, 2016 6:18 am

Bruce, up to 88.31% now, only three days later, and far above last year. The recent rains should help the low southern basins considerably.

April 8, 2016 9:03 pm

Once again the AGW prognosticators have failed. Never have they been correct. Never. How much of this misinformation needs to be disseminated before it’s pathetic to everyone?

April 8, 2016 11:11 pm

“These practices enable farmers and ranchers to use water more efficiently as well as boost the health of soil”. I’m not a farmer or a rancher, but I would expect that most farmers and ranchers probably know more about water use and the health of the soil than any government agency. After all their livelihood depends on it. Some of these ranches out west, I understand, have been in the same families for generations. It’s not a job, but a way of life. A way of life that is under increasing pressure from environmentalists (Nature Conservancy. Sierra Club and the Rockefeller, Pew and Tides Foundations and others) colluding with government agencies like the EPA and BLM to shut down as many ranches and farms as they possibly can. Water rights, particularly since Obama announced in 2011 that water was not a right, it was a privilege has spurred this shutdown. Farmers or ranchers are told the water on their land doesn’t belong to them because it came from somewhere else, or that some species on their land like the Prairie Gopher or the Sage Grouse is endangered. Climate Change is only one facet of the attack by environmentalists and their cohorts in government, in ALL western democracies, on our democratic freedoms including property rights. Source: “Ecofascists” a book by Elizabeth Nickson (2012).

April 9, 2016 5:39 am

“The attack by environmentalist and their cohorts in government…” I think this phrase only touches the surface of the problem. It is the OneWorlder Uniparty elitists who desire to own the natural resources of the U.S.A. They own the present administration and the GOPe (e for Establishment). See for humungous money laundering for their purposes. The U.S. won’t belong to American citizens if they get their way. Moreover, most “conservative” sites and so-called candidates are plants. The fraud is immense, as WUWT continues to document on global warming issues.

April 9, 2016 6:54 am

I would like the see an offshore submerged aqueduct from the mouth of the Columbia River to the Baja. And a new, improved border.

Bruce Cobb
April 9, 2016 6:59 am

This extreme normalness is unprecedented. Must be “climate change”.

April 11, 2016 8:25 pm

Snowpack is “near normal”?
I bet not. I bet snowpack is normal.
“Normal” is what normally happens. That is how this word is understood by the audience of these reports/headlines.
But the typical practice is to call anything infinitesimally lower than average “below normal”. And anything the tiniest bit higher than the average is “above normal”.
Nonsense. Values close to the average, above and below, are what happen most of the time. They’re “normal.” Anything within a std dev of the mean should be described as “normal”.

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