Ag Weather Forum

Snow Visits Far West

Bryce Anderson
By  Bryce Anderson , DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist
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For the first time in a long time, a healthy round of snow decorated Yosemite National Park in California Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Yosemite Conservancy)

To end a drought, you’ve got to start with some moisture sometime. And hopes are that lower-elevation rain and mountain snow in the western rim of the U.S. during early November will get the ball rolling. Following is the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service weekly description of what went on in the Far West and Northwest.

The current snow water equivalent percent of median map shows a few areas where snow has begun its winter accumulation. These areas include a few sites in the Cascades in Oregon and Washington, the Sierra in California, and the Rockies in Idaho, Montana, and Colorado. The actual amounts, however, are still small -- generally 2 inches or less.

The 7-day precipitation percent of average map shows many areas of significant precipitation throughout the West. Only a few areas in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and eastern Oregon received less than average precipitation during the week.

The total precipitation map shows many areas of 1 to 4 inches throughout the West. Most notable, however, are the Cascades of Washington and Oregon, where precipitation of 5 to 12 inches fell during the week.

For the 2016 Water Year that began on October 1, 2015, many areas are getting a good start on precipitation accumulation, with near or above average amounts. Areas not following this pattern include southeastern Oregon, eastern Wyoming, and northern Utah.

The Los Angeles Times sounded a very hopeful note as well. “An omen? A godsend? Describe it as you like, but it’s shaping up to be a November to remember for California ski resorts, at least two of which are opening early after recent storms.”

The western U.S., of course, needs all the precipitation it can get. Here’s how the U.S. Drought Monitor assessment for the region was worded for the week ending Tuesday November 3:

“An early-season, moisture-laden Pacific storm system brought beneficial precipitation (including snows to higher elevations) to extreme northwestern and central California, including 2-3.5 inches of precipitation to the Sierra Nevada and northeastward across west-central and northeastern Nevada. The precipitation (and snow) was an early bonus to the 2015-16 Water Year in the Sierras, but with 4 consecutive years of drought, this precipitation was just a start to moisten the soils for hopefully more (frozen preferred) precipitation this winter, thus no changes were made in the Sierras. However, according to the NRCS Snotel sites, it was refreshing to see the Sierra average basins water year to date (WYTD since Oct. 1) precipitation and snow water content at 152-170 percent of normal and 608-1150 percent of normal, respectively, as of Nov. 3, but one must remember that normals are quite small early in the Water Year, so huge percentages can occur with a wet start (but better wet than dry).”

Precipitation follow-up will be closely watched as fall gives way to winter to see if there is truly a buildup in the Far West moisture supply.

Twitter @BAndersonDTN



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