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Regional Drought Update Date
January 26, 2024
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Drought Status Update

Drought Status Update for the Intermountain West


DEWS Regions:
Update Status:

NIDIS and its partners will issue future Intermountain West Drought Status Updates as conditions evolve.

Snow Drought in Much of the Intermountain West Region Despite El Niño

Key Points

  • Drought has expanded in the southern portion of the Intermountain West. As a whole, 37% of the region is in Moderate to Exceptional Drought (D1-D4), according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
  • The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center reported the Fall Model for the Upper Colorado River Basin was 60%–90% of average and the Lower Colorado River Basin Fall Model was 35%–60% of average October–December precipitation.
  • As of  January 25, 2024, snow water equivalent (SWE) in the Upper Colorado River Basin is 85.06% of median, and the Lower Colorado River Basin sits at 68.5% of median. These below-normal SWE conditions could impact the timing and magnitude of spring runoff. 
  • El Niño typically brings wetter winters to the Southern U.S., including New Mexico and Arizona. El Niño is expected to continue for the next several months, with ENSO-neutral conditions favored during April–June 2024 (73% chance) according to the NOAA Climate Prediction Center (CPC)
  • Temperatures across the Intermountain West region from December 25, 2023–January 23, 2024 varied, with southern New Mexico, central Arizona, central Colorado and western Utah reporting temperatures 1–6 °F below average. Eastern Colorado was 9–12 °F below normalUtah was 0-6 °F above normal in the north central and northeast part of the state and normal to below normal for the southwest corner of the state.  
  • Precipitation across the Intermountain West states from December 25, 2023–January 23, 2024 varied between 3 inches below normal in many areas to 3 inches above normal.
  • Colorado and New Mexico are experiencing dry soil moisture. Soil moisture at 20cm depth falls between the 20th–30th percentile of historical measurements for this day of the year in most of Colorado and the north central portion of New Mexico. 
Current Conditions
Current Drought Conditions: Intermountain West

U.S. Drought Monitor
Value Map Hex Color Description
D0 #ffff00 D0 - Abnormally Dry Abnormally Dry (D0) indicates a region that is going into or coming out of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. View typical impacts by state.
D1 #fcd37f D1 – Moderate Drought Moderate Drought (D1) is the first of four drought categories (D1–D4), according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. View typical impacts by state.
D2 #fa0 D2 – Severe Drought Severe Drought (D2) is the second of four drought categories (D1–D4), according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. View typical impacts by state.
D3 #e60000 D3 – Extreme Drought Extreme Drought (D3) is the third of four drought categories (D1–D4), according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. View typical impacts by state.
D4 #730000 D4 – Exceptional Drought Exceptional Drought (D4) is the most intense drought category, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. View typical impacts by state.

Main Stats
37%
of the Intermountain West is in drought (D1–D4)
35%
of New Mexico is in Extreme to Exceptional Drought (D3–D4)
35%-60%
below-average October–December precipitation in the Lower Colorado River Basin

Current Conditions in the Intermountain West

  • As of January 23, 2024, 37% of the Intermountain West region is experiencing Moderate to Exceptional (D1–D4) drought.
  • Arizona: 63.4% of the state is in drought (with an estimated 4.5 million residents in drought areas). Long-term Moderate to Severe (D1–D2) drought expanded in western and central Arizona, and Severe to Extreme (D2–D3) drought persists in central and southeastern Arizona.
    • Temperatures in Arizona varied. The state had its 5th warmest and the 26th driest October–December. 
    • As of January 23, 2024, central Arizona reservoirs (Salt and Verde systems) are currently 81% full, and SWE is below median for most basins, with the Lower Colorado basin at 62% of median. Snowpack in the Salt basin is 44% of 2023 SWE levels, and the Verde basin is 20% of 2023 SWE levels.
  • Colorado: 27.8% of the state is in drought (with an estimated 426,800 residents in drought areas).
    • Temperatures from December 24, 2023–January 22, 2024 were cooler than average for the central to eastern region of the state, ranging from 6–12 °F below average. The western portion of the state was between 1–3 °F above average. 
    • Precipitation varied across the state over the same period. The eastern part of the state received between 130%–230% above–average precipitation, while the western and central region was between 5%–80% of average. 
    • Current snowpack and SWE levels across the state have had a slow start and are currently 87% of normal. The Yampa, White, Upper Colorado, North and South Platte, and Gunnison basins are close to 100% of normal. However, southern ranges are below median for this time of year. Current deficits have been accrued over the last six months, since the state was drought-free in July 2023. Statewide reservoir storage is still above average. Major western Colorado reservoirs such as Lake Granby, Blue Mesa, and McPhee Reservoir are all in normal operating range.  
  • New Mexico: 93% of the state is in drought (with an estimated 2 million residents in drought areas). Extreme and Exceptional (D3–D4) drought persisted across southern New Mexico and developed in the north central and northwest part of the state. 
    • Temperatures from December 24, 2023–January 22, 2024 ranged from 2–10  °F below normal, with the coldest temperatures found in the west central and far northeastern parts of the state.
    • Precipitation varied across the state, with the southeast receiving 0%–50% of average precipitation and the higher elevations in the western and northern parts of the state receiving up to 130%–150% percent of average precipitation. 
    • Current snowpack and SWE ranges between 82%–153% of median for the northern mountains, 96%–103% of median for southeastern mountains (Gila), and only 42% of median for the Rio Hondo range. 
  • Utah: 8.9% of the state is in drought (with an estimated 24,800 residents in drought areas).
    • Temperatures were above average for the month of December and into early January, with temperatures 2–4 °F above normal in December. The first three weeks of January have seen most of the state running 1–3 °F above normal, with areas of 1–3 °F cooler than normal in the southwest corner of the state and 4–6 °F warmer than normal in the northeast corner of the state. 
    • Precipitation activity has been focused more on northern and central Utah, where snow totals are 80%–120% of normal. 
    • Southern Utah snowpack and seasonal precipitation are only 60%–80% of normal for this point in the season. Overall, the state’s total snowpack sits at 102% of normal for this time of year, with soil moisture similarly normal.
  • Wyoming: 6.4% of the state is in drought (with an estimated 25,500 residents in drought areas).
    • Temperatures over the last 30 days were well below average, except for parts of the Green and Bear Basins, where temperatures have been up to 3 °F above average.  The remainder of the state has been between 3–10 °F below average. This departure was skewed by extremely cold temperatures that covered the state from about January 10–20. 
    • Precipitation over the last 30 days in the Wind River Range and the northwest corner of the state have the greatest negative departures from normal, with Teton and western Park Counties with more than 2 inches below average. Most of the state has been within +/- 0.5 inch of average; the north and central to south-central regions were slightly below average, and the southwest and southeast saw amounts slightly above average. 
    • Snowpack is well below average statewide, with the exception of the Bear River Basin, which is currently at 104% of the 1991–2020 median. The South Platte in Wyoming is at 26% of median, the lowest basin is the Powder River at 53%, which is an all-time (1981–2024) minimum snowpack.  Nine other basins are at or lower than the 10% of median.

Average Maximum Temperature Departure from Average: Last 30 Days

Key takeaway: December 25, 2023 through January 23, 2024 was cooler-than-normal for the majority of the Intermountain West. 

Map of Western states showing departures from normal maximum temperature from December 24, 2023 - January 22, 2024. The majority of the Intermountain West region was cooler than normal, with the exception of Utah which had 1-6 ° F above average temperatures.
Departure from normal temperatures across the Intermountain West from December 25, 2023–January 23, 2024. The majority of the Intermountain West region was cooler than normal, ranging between 0–6 °F below average. For the same time period, Utah had 1–6° F above-average temperatures. Source: Western Regional Climate Center (WRCC).

Percent of Normal Precipitation: Last 30 Days

Key takeaway: For December 24, 2023January 22, 2024, precipitation was 0%–50% below normal for the southeastern and central regions of New Mexico and between 0%–25% below normal for central Arizona. Much of Utah was between 25%–50% of normal, along with portions of south central and southwestern Colorado. 

Intermountain West states’ 30-day percent of normal precipitation as of January, 22,2024, showing 0-50% below normal precipitation for much of southern, southeastern and central regions of New Mexico; and between 0-25% below normal for central Arizona. Much of Utah was between 25-50% of normal, along with portions of south central and southwest Colorado.
30-day percent of normal precipitation for the Intermountain West for December 24, 2023–January 22, 2024. Blue hues indicate areas of above-normal precipitation, while brown hues indicate areas of below-normal precipitation. Valid January 22, 2024. Source: UC Merced, GridMET. Map from Drought.gov.

Intermountain West Drought Impacts 

The impacts from low seasonal snowpack to date and below-average snow water equivalent (SWE) in many basins across the Intermountain West is shown in the maps below, which highlight basins with average to below-average SWE, average and below-average streamflows, and near- to below-normal soil moisture, for this time of year. 

Additionally, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation teacup diagram highlights larger reservoirs’ levels across the Colorado River Basin. As we anticipate Spring runoff, it is important to monitor these levels. The average to below-average snowpack and SWE in the region could impact storages deficits in Water Year 2024.

Westwide Snow Water Equivalent (SWE): January 24, 2024

Key Takeaway: Watching the snowpack and SWE levels for the remainder of the winter months will be important for water management decisions in the spring and summer months. 

Snow water equivalent is below normal in many Wyoming basins, as well as basins in southern Colorado, southern Utah, and Arizona.
This map shows snow water equivalent (SWE)—the amount of liquid water the snowpack contains—at Snow Telemetry (SNOTEL) stations across the western U.S. SWE is displayed as a percent of the 1991–2020 median values for each station. Yellow to red hues indicate below-normal SWE, while blue hues indicate above-normal SWE. Valid January 24, 2024. Source: USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service.

14-Day Average Streamflow Conditions: January 25, 2024

Key takeaway: Several important streams in Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona report 14-day average streamflows in the 10th–24th percentiles, compared to historical streamflows for the same period.

 Several important streams in Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona report 14-day average streamflows in the 10th–24th percentiles, compared to historical streamflows for the same period.
14-day average streamflow compared to historical conditions for the same time period. Valid January 25, 2024. Source: U.S. Geological Survey.

20cm Soil Moisture Percentile: January 21, 2024

Key takeaway: The National Weather Service Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (CBRFC) reports the Fall 2022 soil moisture conditions for the Colorado River Basin are near to below normal. Conditions are near/above average in Northern basins and below average in Southern basins, which is worse compared to Fall 2022. 

The map below shows soil moisture conditions based on in situ measurements. Soil moisture at 20cm depth falls between the 20th–30th percentile of historical measurements for this day of the year in most of Colorado and the north central portion of New Mexico

Soil moisture at 20cm depth falls between the 20th–30th percentile of historical measurements for this day of the year in most of Colorado and the north central portion of New Mexico
This map shows the moisture content of the top 20 cm of soil compared to historical conditions, based on in situ (in the ground) measurements of soil moisture from a wide range of state and federal mesonets across the continental U.S. These data are then interpolated into a 4 km grid. Red and orange hues indicate drier soils, while greens and blues indicate greater soil moisture. Source: NationalSoilMoisture.com. Map from Drought.gov.

Reservoir Levels

Key takeaway: Most small to medium sized regional reservoirs are full, nearly full, or have above-average storage capacity in the northern portion of the Intermountain West. Elephant Butte reservoir in Southern New Mexico is only 24.6% full, and persistent drought continues across the state. 

Larger reservoirs in the Colorado River Basin vary: Flaming Gorge in Wyoming is 86% full; Navajo Reservoir in New Mexico is 66% full; Blue Mesa in Colorado is 69% full; and Lake Powell is currently 35% of capacity, as of January 23, 2024.

Flaming Gorge in Wyoming is 86% full; Navajo Reservoir in New Mexico is 66% full; Blue Mesa in Colorado is 69% full; and Lake Powell is currently 35% of capacity, as of January 23, 2024.
Reservoir levels for the Upper Colorado River Drainage Basin, shown as teacup diagrams. The level of blue fill in the teacup represents the level of fill in the reservoir. The storage volumes reported represent the live storage, which is the storage that can be withdrawn by gravity. Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Outlooks and Forecasts for the Intermountain West

El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO)

  • As of January 22, 2024, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) published an El Niño Advisory, reporting that equatorial sea surface temperatures are above average across the central and eastern Pacific Ocean, and that tropical Pacific atmospheric anomalies are still consistent with El Niño. 
  • El Niño is expected to continue for the next several seasons, with ENSO-neutral favored during April–June 2024 (73% chance).
  • El Niño conditions for the winter months have historically resulted in a higher probability of normal to above-normal precipitation.

Precipitation Anomalies During November–March El Niño Events

Map of North America showing El Niño Composite Precipitation Anomalies for November-March 30 year moving climatology record. Southern region of the US shows increased precipitation during El Nino events for March-November.
El Niño composite precipitation anomalies (inches) for November–March vs. a 30-year moving climatology record. Greens and blues indicate a precipitation surplus, while yellow and red hues indicate precipitation deficits. Source: NOAA's Physical Sciences Laboratory and CU Boulder's Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES).

8–14 Day Temperature and Precipitation Outlooks: January 31

  • Temperature: February 2–8, 2024 is likely to be near to above normal for the far-eastern portions of the Intermountain West, with below-normal temperatures in the rest of the region.
  • Precipitation: The Climate Prediction Center's 8–14 day outlook (valid February 2–8, 2024) suggests wetter-than-normal conditions for this time of year for all of the Intermountain West region. 
8–14 day precipitation outlook for February 2–8, 2024. The green shades represent areas with a greater chance for above-normal precipitation, gray areas represent near-normal precipitation, and brown shades represent areas with a greater chance for below-normal precipitation. Source: NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. Map from Drought.gov.
8–14 day temperature outlook for February 2–8, 2024. The green shades represent areas with a greater chance for above-normal temperatures, gray areas represent near-normal temperatures, and brown shades represent areas with a greater chance for below-normal temperatures. Source: NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. Map from Drought.gov.

3-Month Outlook for February–April 2024

  • Temperature: The Climate Prediction Center's February–April 2024 outlook suggests a 33%-40% chance for warmer-than-average temperatures for Utah. There are equal chances of average, above-average, and below-average temperatures for Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.   
  • Precipitation: Most of the Intermountain West has equal chances of above-, below-, or near-normal precipitation for February–April 2024. In southwestern Arizona there is a 33%-40% probability of above-normal precipitation.  
Maps of North America showing equal chances of above-, below-, or near-normal precipitation for February, March, and April 2024 in most of the Western U.S.
Seasonal (3-month) precipitation outlook for February–April 2024, showing where there is a greater chance for above-normal precipitation (green shades), below-normal precipitation (brown shades), or equal chances (white). Source: NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. Map from Drought.gov.
Maps of North America showing probability that most of the US West will equal chances of average, above average and below average temperatures for February, March and April 2024.
Seasonal (3-month) temperature outlook for February–April 2024, showing where there is a greater chance for above-normal temperatures (red shades), below-normal temperatures (blue shades), or equal chances (white). Source: NOAA's Climate Prediction Center. Map from Drought.gov.

For More Information

NIDIS and its partners will issue future Drought Updates as conditions evolve.

More local information is available from the following resources:

Prepared By 

Gretel Follingstad, PhD
NOAA/National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), CU Boulder/CIRES

Erinanne Saffell
Arizona State Climatologist/Arizona State University

Jon Meyer
Utah Climate Center/Utah State University

Andrew Mangham
NOAA/National Weather Service- Albuquerque, NM

Tony Bergantino
Water Resources Data System – Wyoming State Climate Office

Tony Anderson
NOAA National Weather Service- Cheyenne, WY

Peter Goble
Colorado Climate Center/Climatologist and Water Availability Specialist

Special Thanks

This Drought Status Update is issued in partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the offices of the state climatologist for Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. The purpose of the update is to communicate a potential area of concern for drought expansion and/or development within the Intermountain West based on recent conditions and the upcoming forecast. NIDIS and its partners will issue future Drought Updates as conditions evolve.