New snowpack totals suggest the 20-year Western drought will persist, intensify

Arizona Central

Lack of monsoon rainfall last summer and spotty snowfall this winter combined to worsen the Western drought dramatically in the past year, and spring snowmelt won’t bring much relief.

Critical April 1 measurements of snow accumulations from mountain ranges across the region show that most streams and rivers will once again flow well below average levels this year, stressing ecosystems and farms and depleting key reservoirs that are already at dangerously low levels.

As the climate warms, it’s likely that drought conditions will worsen and persist across much of the West. Dry spells between downpours and blizzards are getting longer, and snowpack in the mountains is starting to melt during winter, new research shows. The warming atmosphere may also be suppressing critical summer rains from the Western monsoon.

A year ago, when California and Colorado experienced their worst fire seasons on record, drought conditions spanned about half of the West, and no areas experienced “extreme” or “exceptional” conditions. But going into this year’s dry season, about 90 percent of the region is now in drought, with 40 percent in those two most severe categories.

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