February Forecast: Limited Water Supply In Westernmost States

February Forecast: Limited Water Supply In Westernmost States

A limited water supply is predicted in many areas west of the Continental Divide, according to data from this year’s second forecast by the National Water and Climate Center of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).


The center monitors parts of eastern California, now in a state of emergency because of drought. The area is suffering one of the lowest snow years on record. While dry in the far west states, the report predicts a near normal water supply for most areas east of the Continental Divide in Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. The center will continue to monitor and forecast water supplies for the next four months.

With the exception of New Mexico, which is extremely dry, conditions east of the Continental Divide are mostly near normal. Water supply then follows a gradient, becoming increasingly limited further west. The center’s experts caution states further west – especially California, Nevada and Oregon – to prepare for a dry spring and summer. The mountain snowpack in Oregon is also far below normal this winter. Most Oregonians depend on local sources for water supply. “We’re experiencing record breaking lows,” said the center’s hydrologist Melissa Webb. “We’d need months of record-breaking storms to get to normal.”

Although NRCS stream flow forecasts do not predict drought, they provide information about future water supply in states where snowmelt accounts for the majority of seasonal water supply. In addition to precipitation, stream flow in the west consists largely of accumulated mountain snow that melts and flows into streams as temperatures warm into spring and summer. NRCS scientists analyze the snowfall, air temperature, soil moisture and other measurements taken from remote sites to develop the water supply forecasts.

USDA is partnering with western states to help mitigate the severe effects of drought on agriculture. The department is also co-leading the National Drought Resilience Partnership, comprised of seven federal agencies collaborating to provide short and long term assistance to help states and communities respond to and plan for drought.

Since 1935, 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.

Other resources on drought include the U.S. Drought Monitor and U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook map, which forecast drought conditions through April 30. For information on USDA’s drought efforts, visit http://www.usda.gov/drought. And to learn more about how NRCS is helping private landowners deal with drought, visit the NRCS website. http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/site/national/home/

Source: USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service