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Northwest Snowpack Grows,

But Southwest Remains Dry

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Early April Is The Transition Period From Snow Accumulation To Snowmelt, And The Month’s Forecast Is Important For Water Supply Planning In The Region

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Staff Report
Modern Times Magazine

April 25, 2014 — Storms during the month of March increased snowpack in the northern half of the U.S. West, although they did not provide significant relief for the dry southern half of the region, according to the United States Department of Agriculture's National Water and Climate Center in its April 2014 water supply forecast.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service said that most of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and northern portions of Colorado and Utah will probably have near normal or above normal water supplies. Still, far below normal streamflow is expected for southern Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, southern Utah, and western Nevada.

“The Colorado River basin is well below normal values and so is expected to continue the dry conditions in terms of water supply,” said Ken Waters, Phoenix-based Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “There was some late winter, early spring relief, but it mostly helped the northwest area with little relief for the headlands of the Colorado. In addition, more locally for Arizona, our winter snowpack inside the state was well below normal levels. Our hope is to have a moderate or strong El Niño over the next year which could help the winter precipitation situation in Arizona.”

Early April is generally regarded as the period of transition from snow accumulation to snowmelt, so the April 1 water supply forecast is typically important for planning, and it weighs heavily with strategic decisions made by water managers, reservoir operators, irrigation districts, and hydroelectric power companies, NWCC said.

April was the second consecutive month in which many snow telemetry sites in Montana, Wyoming, parts of Idaho, Washington, and Oregon received two to three times the normal amount of precipitation. The Cascade Mountains in Washington went from extremely dry in January to a normal snowpack currently, and Montana and Wyoming snowpack is now at record levels.

Since 1939, NRCS has conducted snow surveys and issued regular water supply forecasts. Since the late 1970s, NRCS has been installing, operating and maintaining an extensive, high-elevation automated system called SNOTEL, designed to collect snowpack and related climatic data in the western U.S. and Alaska.
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