A limited water supply is predicted west of the Continental Divide, according to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) National Water and Climate Center (NWCC) data in its first forecast of 2014. The NWCC also predicts normal water supply east of the Continental Divide and will continue to monitor, forecast and update water supplies for the next six months.
Monitoring snowpack of 13 western states, the center's mission is to help the West prepare for spring and summer snowmelt and streamflow by providing periodic forecasts. It's a tool for farmers, ranchers, water managers, communities and recreational users to make informed, science-based decisions about future water availability.
"Right now the West Coast is all red," NRCS Hydrologist Tom Perkins said. "Early indications are it will be very dry in the western part of the West, but wetter as you travel east. There are some exceptions to this, as New Mexico, Arizona, parts of Utah and southern Colorado are also expected to be dry."
"But that could all change by the end of the season. This early in the season--who knows? It always changes," Perkins said.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center's seasonal forecast is calling for a milder and somewhat drier winter for much of the West. According to NRCS Meteorologist Jan Curtis there is a very small chance for normal precipitation on the West Coast.
"The North Cascades in Washington might have a normal year, but Oregon and California are unlikely to have normal precipitation," Curtis said.
NRCS Oregon lead Snow Surveyor Melissa Webb said she isn't alarmed yet.
"Oregon snowpack looks grim right now, but the season is young and storms are on the horizon," Webb said. "While concerned, we're hopeful for some recovery in the next couple of months."
Although NRCS' streamflow forecasts do not predict drought, they provide information about future water supply in states where snowmelt accounts for the majority of seasonal runoff.
In addition to precipitation, streamflow 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 streamflow forecasts play a vital role in the livelihood of many Americans," NRCS Chief Jason Weller said. "With much of this region greatly affected by drought, our experts will continue to monitor snowpack data and ensure that NRCS is ready to help landowners plan and prepare for water supply conditions."
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 United States and Alaska.
Other resources on drought include the U.S. Drought Monitor and U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook map, which forecast drought conditions through March 31, 2014. For information on USDA's drought efforts, visit www.usda.gov/drought. And to learn more about how NRCS is helping private landowners deal with drought, visit the NRCS site.
USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service helps America's farmers and ranchers conserve the Nation's soil, water, air and other natural resources. All programs are voluntary and offer science-based solutions that benefit both the landowner and the environment.