Drought-stricken West holds out for more than just dry snow

An empty irrigation canal at a tree farm in Corrales, New Mexico, as snow covers the Sandia Mountains in the background, Feb. 17, 2021. Much of the West is mired in drought, with New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Utah being among the hardest hit | Associated Press file photo by Susan Montoya Bryan, St. George News

BERNALILLO, N.M. (AP) — Much of the West is dealing with record levels of dryness, with parts of New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Nevada among the hardest hit.

Recent frigid temperatures and wind have made the situation worse. Forecasters say that snow tends to be drier when temperatures are cold, so there’s less water content in the snow. The wind then blows it away, leaving patches of bare ground.

Typically, about 12 inches of snow make for an inch of water when it melts, said Kerry Jones, chief meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albuquerque. With colder air, those ratios climb and nearly triple the amount of snow is needed to produce that same inch of water.

That means less water to recharge the soil and less that will find its way into rivers and reservoirs this spring.

“While we welcome each and every storm and the benefit they bring to our water supply, we must recognize that this is only a drop in the bucket in replenishing our reservoirs,” said Mary Carlson, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that manages water in the West.

Many places already were dealing with deficits as winter snowpack and spring runoff have become less reliable in recent years. Add to that a contracting monsoon season. The mountain city of Flagstaff, Arizona, marked its second consecutive driest monsoon season on record in 2020.

“The scary part about it is the fact that we count on monsoon season to kind of help out, especially with agriculture, farming and ranching and that sort of thing,” Jones said. “We’ve come to rely on it because we’re not getting the water supply with our snowpack and if we don’t get a good monsoon season, it puts you that much deeper in the hole.”

That means whatever water can be squeezed out of the recent snowfall is likely to be soaked up by the dry soil before it can feed any rivers or reservoirs.

Cities across the West have made exponential progress with conservation efforts over the years, while farmers have been installing drip systems, pipelines and high-tech monitors to eliminate evaporation and waste. Still, farmers and ranchers are preparing for what they call harsh realities as long-term forecasts call for more dry, warm weather.

Written by SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN, Associated Press.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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