When we think of drought, most of us are likely to visualize the problem as simply a lack of adequate precipitation. However, classifying droughts is a little more complicated than that. In fact, it matters a great deal what form precipitation takes.
Consider what’s called a snow drought, a drought that occurs when a region receives a less-than-adequate amount of snow but necessary a less-than-adequate amount of precipitation.
This winter conditions led to a snow drought across much of the Western United States.
In response to the snow drought CIRC in conjunction with its partners through the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) Drought Early Warming System (DEWS) have helped developed a new Snow Drought page on drought.gov.
The Snow Drought page, which went live last week, features a number of snow drought monitoring tools designed for decision makers and resource managers to monitor, plan for, and cope with snow drought and its impacts.
Snow—as we so often write at this blog—is super important for the Pacific Northwest and much of the American West.
Slowly melting over the spring and summer months, mountain snow provides much-needed water during the warm months; water for fish to travel up area streams and irrigation for farmers. Snow drought impacts—as you might imagine—are often widespread, affecting everything from winter recreation and reservoir levels to farmers and ecosystems.
Snow droughts occur when a region receives a less-than-adequate amount of snow. This can happen when above-normal temperatures force precipitation to fall as rain instead of as snow, when not enough precipitation has fallen to create an adequate amount of snow, or through a combination of warm temperatures and low precipitation levels.
The new Snow Drought page allows users to access key metrics that track snowpack levels, including: snow water equivalent (SWE), the amount of water that would result if the available snow were melted; SNOTEL, or Snow Telemetry, data from the series of over 700 automated snowpack monitoring sites in the Western US operated by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service; and snow course site data, sites where snow measurements are taken manually. The Snow Drought page also includes stream temperature data and streamflow forecasts.
What’s more, the Snow Drought page features resources and tools specific to geographical regions, including the Sierra Nevada Mountains and National Weather Service River Forecast Centers, and tools provided by organizations, including NOAA Fisheries, the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, and the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes.
The Snow Drought page was created as a joint effort between the NIDIS DEWS for California-Nevada, the Pacific Northwest, and the Intermountain West, and the, Western Regional Climate Center. The NOAA Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) teams the California Nevada Climate Applications Program (CNAP) and CIRC played an integral role in developing the snow drought page by providing input on tools and resources.
In an effort to increase awareness and understanding of how snow drought impacts citizens and economies, reported results will be shared with regional DEWS and agencies in states affected by snow drought.
Check out of the Snow Drought page, and let us know what you think.
About NIDIS and DEWS:
The National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) is a groundbreaking, inter-agency effort aimed at making our nation more resilient to droughts and their impacts.
Under NIDIS and its funding mechanism Coping With Drought Initiative, CIRC team members have raised the profile of the Pacific Northwest region’s responses to drought through media engagement, local outreach, and collaboration with partner organizations in our region.
CIRC’s efforts are currently being funneled into the Pacific Northwest Drought Early Warning System (DEWS), an effort created to help empower farmers, ranchers, and others to proactively respond to drought through innovation.
CIRC team members are also hard at work developing and perfecting our own drought-related Climate Tools—including the UW Pacific Northwest Drought Monitor and the Northwest Climate Toolbox—to help our Pacific Northwest neighbors get the most up-to-date information about drought, its impacts, and what it means for them. CIRC research is currently being applied to the US Drought Monitor and related tools, including the Snow Drought page.
Pics and Figures:
Credit: SNOw Data Assimilation System (SNODAS) percent of average (2004-2018) snow water equivalent (SWE) for March 31, 2018. Image made using Climate Engine.
Christina Stone is the Communications Coordinator for NIDIS, managing written content and reports as well as the NIDIS social media accounts. Christina is also an independent filmmaker and writer; view her full portfolio.
Nathan Gilles is the managing editor of The Climate Circulator, and oversees CIRC’s social media accounts and website. When he’s not writing for CIRC, Nathan works as a freelance science writer. Other Posts by this Author.