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NIDIS Intermountain West
Regional Drought Early Warning System
March 21, 2017

Current U.S. Drought Monitor Depiction

Recommended Changes

Summary: March 21, 2017

Dry, warm, and windy conditions that dominated much of February have continued well into March.  Unlike February though (a typically dry month), average conditions in March are wetter, so moisture deficits are now growing faster.  Concerns are increasing as the region transitions from dry conditions during a normally dry time to dry conditions when springtime moisture should be ramping up.

And, while the higher elevations have overall fared better through most of the winter, snowpack this past week has shown signs of beginning the snowmelt season.  While above peak snowpack conditions is good news, early melting might not be good news.  Early melt could mean less overall water supply being saved, more evaporative loss to the atmosphere, and less replenishment to the soils.  It's too early to tell, but conditions are being closely monitored.  For now, melting has just started and streamflows have quickly responded, 13% of gages in the Upper Colorado River Basin reporting record high flows for this time of year.

Around the lower elevation plains, warm conditions have resulted in some early greenup and vegetation coming out of dormancy early. One of the bigger concerns is that any early vegetative growth can be damaged by spring freezes. The wind has contributed to high evaporative demand, and blowing dust, putting further stress on crops and soils.

Fortunately, outlooks show that the region may be prepping for a pattern shift.  While climate models are holding onto the probability of warmer than average temperatures to continue, there is more precipitation in the short-term forecasts and mid-term outlooks.  NOAA's Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (7-day QPF) is a bit aggressive, showing widespread accumulations of 2 to 4 inches over the plains, 1 to 2 inches over the mountains, and the Four Corners seeing the lowest accumulations of around half an inch.  The Climate Prediction Center also shows an increased chance of above average precipitation in the 8-14 day outlook.  If these forecasts hold true, we'd be looking at widespread relief and a drastic change over what the region has been experiencing for the past few weeks.


UCRB: Status quo is recommended.

Eastern Colorado: The current U.S. Drought Monitor (USDM) author has already proposed a slight expansion of D2, connecting the two separate D2 bubbles along the Front Range.  This proposed change is acceptable, but it's recommended that the rest of the region stay status quo.  At this time, widespread D1 still appears to be appropriate, with not as much justification evident for any more expansions of D2.  If the precipitation outlook pans out, it may even be possible to consider improvements next week.  On the flip side, if this active pattern misses any portion of the region, we could be looking at more degradations in the coming weeks.

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