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Regional Drought Update Date
April 22, 2022
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Drought Status Update

Drought Update for the Intermountain West


DEWS Regions:
Update Status:

NIDIS and its partners will issue future drought status updates as conditions evolve.

Latest forecasts show drought continuing into summer.

Key Points

  • Drought continues across the Intermountain West.
  • Annual spring snowmelt has begun with most of the West seeing below median snowpack for this time of year.
  • Seasonal forecasts show drought continuing for most of the West, but hint at a potential for an active monsoon later in the season for southern Arizona.
Current Conditions
U.S. Drought Monitor Conditions: Intermountain West | April 19, 2022

Current U.S. Drought Monitor map for the Intermountain West Drought Early Warning System (DEWS) region with data valid for April 19, 2022. The U.S. Drought Monitor is updated each Thursday to show the location and intensity of drought across the country.

21.4% of the Intermountain West DEWS region is experiencing extreme to exceptional drought (D3–D4).

 

U.S. Drought Monitor Categories
Value Map Hex Color
D0 - Abnormally Dry #ffff00
D1 - Moderate Drought #ffcc99
D2 - Severe Drought #f5ad3d
D3 - Extreme Drought #ff0000
D4 - Exceptional Drought #660000
Main Stats
6%
of Arizona is in Extreme (D3) Drought
5%
of Colorado is in Extreme (D3) Drought
63%
of New Mexico is in Extreme (D3) or Exceptional (D4) Drought
43%
of Utah is in Extreme (D3) Drought
21%
of Wyoming is in Extreme (D3) Drought

Current Drought Conditions and Outlook

U.S. Drought Monitor Conditions 

  • There has been little change in drought conditions across the Intermountain West.
  • Exceptional (D4) drought exists in the region in northeastern and southern New Mexico and has recently expanded into the southeast corner of Colorado.
  • 21% of the region is experiencing extreme (D3) drought or worse.
  • Extreme (D3) drought conditions have been in place in this region since May 2020.
  • Moderate (D1) or worse drought has been in the region since August 2009.

U.S. Drought Monitor 4-Week Change Map

U.S. Drought Monitor change map for the Intermountain West, showing how drought has improved or worsened from March 22 to April 19, 2022. Parts of all states in the region have experienced a one to two category degradation over the 4-week period.
U.S. Drought Monitor 4-week change map showing where drought has improved or worsened from March 22–April 19, 2022. Source: National Drought Mitigation Center.

Current Snow Water Equivalent (SWE)

  • Upper Colorado River snow water equivalent (SWE) is currently at 83% of median for this time of year. Snowpack usually reaches its peak accumulation on April 6 in the Upper Colorado River Basin. Current SWE is 69% of the historical average peak value.
  • Following low precipitation totals in January and February, March and April snow accumulation kept the snowpack just below the median for the season.
  • April–July water supply volume forecasts are near to much below average across the Upper Colorado River Basin. Mid-April Upper Colorado River Basin water supply guidance generally ranges between 45%–100% of the 1991–2020 historical average.
  • Snowmelt across the West has begun a little earlier than usual.

Snow Water Equivalent: Upper Colorado

Snow Water Equivalent levels remained flat through January and most of February and followed the seasonal accumulation, but just below the median, through March and April. The upper Colorado River Basin is at 83% of normal for this time of year.
Snow water equivalent time series for the Upper Colorado River Basin as of April 21, 2022. Source: USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service–National Water and Climate Center.​​​​​​

Snow Water Equivalent Percent of Median: March 19 to April 19, 2022

Snow Water Equivalent levels for March 19 compared to April 19. The upper Colorado River Basin was at 97% of normal in March and is at 83% of normal for April. The lower Colorado River Basin was at 91% of normal in March but is at 42% of normal for April.
Snow water equivalent as a percent of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) 1990–2021 median for the western U.S. as of March 19 (left) and April 19 (right). Source: USDA NRCS National Water and Climate Center.

April–July Runoff Volume Guidance

Map of the Upper Colorado River Basin with a marker at each stream gauge along the Colorado River, its major tributaries and the eastern Great Basin. Most markers indicate between 40% and 100% of runoff is forecast for the April-July period.
April–July runoff volume guidance as a percent of 1991–2020 average. Valid April 18, 2022. Source: National Weather Service, Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.

Forecasts and Seasonal Outlooks

May 2022

  • The monthly outlook for May shows: 
    • Increased temperatures are likely for the 4 Corners states.
    • Below-normal precipitation is likely for Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. Note that spring is usually the driest season for Arizona and New Mexico.
  • The 4-week Evaporative Demand Drought index (EDDI) forecasts shows increased evaporative demand for southwest Utah but less evaporative demand across southern Arizona and New Mexico.

May 2022 Temperature Outlook

Climate Predication Center 1-month temperature outlook for May 2022. Odds favor above normal temperatures for the Intermountain West States.
Monthly temperature outlook for May 2022, showing the probability (percent chance) of above-normal, below-normal, or near-normal conditions. Source: NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

May 2022 Precipitation Outlook

Climate Predication Center 1-month precipitation outlook for May 2022. Odds favor below normal precipitation for the Intermountain West States.
Monthly precipitation outlook for May 2022, showing the probability (percent chance) of above-normal, below-normal, or near-normal conditions. Source: NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.

Evaporative Demand Drought Index (EDDI) 4-Week Forecast

Map of the western U.S. showing the 4-week forecast Evaporative Demand Drought Index (EDDI).  Generally expect increased evaporative demand for Utah over and decreased demand for southern Arizona for the 4 weeks following April 21.
4-week Evaporative Demand Drought Index (EDDI) forecast, showing projected evaporative demand for the 4 weeks following April 21, 2022. Areas shown in orange and red show regions of expected increased evaporation. Source: UC Merced.

3-Month Outlook for May–July 2022

Seasonal forecasts show a hotter than normal season ahead for the Intermountain West with a hint of the Southwest monsoon later in the season.

  • Odds strongly favor increased temperatures through spring and early summer 2022 for the Intermountain West. 
  • Lower-than-normal precipitation is more likely than not for Colorado, Wyoming, northern Utah, and eastern New Mexico. 
  • Odds slightly lean toward above-normal precipitation for southern and central Arizona for the May–July season. May and early June are usually very dry for Arizona, and the Southwest monsoon usually begins sometime after June 15. 
  • Summer precipitation for the Southwest will be better understood as the season gets closer.

Three-Month Temperature Outlook: May–July 2022

Climate Prediction Center 3-month temperature outlook, valid for May–July 2022. Odds favor above normal temperatures for most of the Intermountain West states.
Three-month temperature outlook for May–July 2022, showing the probability (percent chance) of above-normal, below-normal, or near-normal conditions. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Three-Month Precipitation Outlook: May–July 2022

Climate Prediction Center three-month precipitation outlook for May to July 2022, showing the probability of above-normal, below-normal, or near-normal conditions. Odds favor below normal precipitation for most of the Intermountain West, with equal chances in southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico.
Three-month precipitation outlook for May–July 2022, showing the probability (percent chance) of above-normal, below-normal, or near-normal conditions. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Seasonal Drought Outlook

  • The 3-month drought outlook shows drought is expected to continue for the Intermountain West.
  • The latest seasonal drought outlook follows the seasonal precipitation forecast for a slight chance of above-normal summer precipitation in southern and central Arizona. This could allow for possible improvement of drought conditions in southern Arizona by the end of the season.

U.S. Drought Outlook: April 21–July 31, 2022

U.S. Seasonal Drought Outlook map of the southwestern United States showing the probability drought conditions persisting, improving, or developing from April 21 to July 31, 2022.  Drought conditions are forecast to persist across the West, with possible drought improvements in southern Arizona by the end of the season.
U.S. seasonal drought outlook for April 21–July 31, 2022, showing the likelihood that drought will remain, improve, worsen, or develop. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction Center via Drought.gov.

La Niña to Continue Through Spring and Possibly into Summer

  • One of the primary drivers of drought across the Southwest through winter and spring was a La Niña pattern in the Pacific.
  • The April 10 weekly NINO3.4 value was −0.70 °C, indicating a La Niña pattern persists in the central Pacific.
  • La Niña patterns do not usually persist into northern-hemisphere summer months, but the few historical events that have persisted experienced increased precipitation in Arizona, decreased precipitation in Colorado and New Mexico, and a mixed result for Utah. No two La Niña patterns are the same. 
  • For more information, please check out the NOAA El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) blog

Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies (°C) for April 4–10, 2022

ap of the Pacific Ocean showing sea surface temperature anomalies (in degrees Celsius) for April 4-10, 2022. A pool of cool water lingers in the central equatorial pacific, consistent with a la Niña pattern.
Sea surface temperature anomalies for the Pacific Ocean for April 4–10, 2022. Blue shading in the equatorial Pacific indicates cooler water temperatures consistent with a La Niña pattern. Source: Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

Risk of Wet/Dry Extremes in May–July During La Niña

isk of wet or dry extremes from the historical composite of May through July La Ninas from NOAA ESRL/PSL for the continental U.S. Extreme dry conditions are likely for much of the Southwest.
May–June–July (MJJ) rainfall pattern when averaged over historical La Niña events, showing the risk of wet and dry extremes in MJJ during La Niña. Source: NOAA Physical Sciences Laboratory.

Probability of El Niño, La Niña, or Neutral Conditions

Bar graph showing the relative likelihood of El Niño, La Niña or neutral conditions in the Pacific.  A continuation of a La Niña pattern is likely through summer with a slightly increased chance of a third La Niña pattern next winter.
ENSO forecasts from the International Research Institute, showing the probability of El Niño, La Niña, or neutral conditions from April 2022 to February 2023. Source: International Research Institute

State-Based Conditions and Impacts

Arizona

  • Arizona has entered its climatologically driest months: April, May, and June. Precipitation was below average for much of the state in March, especially in central and southern Arizona. Precipitation for the water year to date is significantly below average.
  • The Tunnel Fire in Coconino County was updated to a Type 1 Incident Management Fire, with more than 20,000 acres of primarily grasslands already burned, several structures destroyed, and hundreds evacuated as of this publication. Evacuations were also ordered for the Crooks Fire in Yavapai County.

October–March Statewide Precipitation: 1895–2022

 

 Time series of October to March Arizona precipitation from 1895 to 2022. Water year-to-date is 3.78 inches compared to the long-term average of 6.32 inches.
Time series of October to March Arizona precipitation from 1895 to 2022. Water year-to-date precipitation is 3.78 inches compared to the long-term average of 6.32 inches. Source: NOAA/NCEI Climate at a Glance.

Colorado

  • March was a near-normal month for Colorado both for temperature and precipitation. Snowfall rates in the mountains picked up from low values in January and February for the first half of March.
  • Snowpack peaked at 75%–90% of normal peak values depending on the basin. It is now (mid-April) melting quickly, especially in southern basins such as the San Juan. Runoff values will likely be lower than 75%–90% of normal due to dry antecedent soil conditions and what has been a dry spring season since snowpack peaked.
  • Conditions have taken a concerning turn in April. While the first half of April was cooler than normal for Colorado, it was also much drier than normal for all but the northern Rockies. Spring is the time of year in which precipitation rates are supposed to pick up on the eastern plains, replenishing soil moisture to support new crop and forage growth. Much of the eastern plains of Colorado have received no moisture thus far in April.
  • Soil moisture on the eastern plains is very low. January and February snows helped for some, but there was not enough moisture to replenish soils following a warm, dry summer and fall. 

Statewide Snow Water Equivalent (SWE)

Snow Water Equivalent time series for the state of Colorado, as of April 19, 2022.
Snow water equivalent time series for the state of Colorado, as of April 19, 2022. Source: USDA NRCS.

Top Meter Soil Moisture Percentile

Colorado top meter soil moisture percentiles for April 12, 2022. Soil moisture on the eastern plains is very low.
Top meter soil moisture percentile for the state of Colorado, as of April 12, 2022. 

New Mexico

  • According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 80% of topsoil moisture is in the very short to short condition, and 70% of winter wheat in the very poor to poor condition as of April 17, 2022.
  • Due to the low topsoil moisture, many farms and ranches were reporting negative impacts from wind erosion causing deteriorating air quality. Numerous dust storms have impacted areas in southern and eastern parts of the state.
  • Several wildfires are burning across the state. The three largest—the Cooks Peak Fire, Hermits Peak Fire, and McBride Fire—burned a combined 34,732 acres as of April 21. These fires are burning over drought-stressed forests and grasslands.
  • High-elevation New Mexico snowpack is holding on but is below average in the Rio Grande Basin, ranging from 73% to 54% of medial SWE as of April 21. Pecos SWE is at 23% of median and will likely melt out close to a month earlier than the median. Lower basins in the Gila and Rio Hondo have already melted out. As a result, below-normal streamflow is expected on all major rivers this spring along with shortened irrigation seasons.
  • Less than an inch of precipitation has fallen in many areas of eastern New Mexico since New Year's Day. Only 0.18 inch has been recorded at the Carlsbad airport in 2022.

Utah

  • Early spring runoff and underwhelming March and April precipitation have introduced drought intensification concerns over the short- and medium-range timescales.
  • 90-day Standardized Precipitation Index values across the state highlight the failure of January–April precipitation, despite a few episodic beneficial storm cycles. 
  • There has been a broad reduction in reservoir levels, which are ~10% lower statewide than this time last year, highlighting the ongoing extreme hydrologic drought that will not be improved from this year’s below-normal spring runoff.

90-Day Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI)

The last 90-day period is historically one of the wettest periods of the year, however precipitation across the region failed to fall with most locations seeing -1.5 to -2.5 standard deviations below normal precipitation. This translates to roughly the driest 5%-10% of precipitation for the 90-day period.
The 90-day Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI) for qualifying stations across Utah shows the lack of both low- and high-elevation precipitation during the historically wettest winter months of January–April. Source: Colorado Climate Center SPI Mapping Tool.

Utah Reservoir Storage: April 17, 2021 vs. 2022

Utah has seen a 10% statewide reduction in reservoir levels from this time last year, highlighting the worsening hydrologic drought in the region.
Year-over-year change in Utah’s reservoirs, showing 2021 (light shading) vs. 2022 levels (dark shading). Chart produced using data acquired from the Utah Division of Water Resources.

April–July Streamflow Volume Forecasts

April-July Streamflow volume forecasts as a percent of normal.
April-July streamflow volume forecasts as a percent of normal. Source: Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.

Wyoming

  • Precipitation:
    • Recent snows have helped the snowpack considerably compared to a few weeks prior. While many western basins are still below the median, they have gained ground even in mid-April.  
    • In the east, the Laramie River Basin has reached 102% of median snow water equivalent (SWE), the only basin to break the 100% point. While almost all basins look to be peaking below the median SWE value, the date of that peak SWE has been later than the median date in at least 8 of the 14 Basins (6-Digit HUC) of Wyoming.
  • Soil Moisture: As a result of recent precipitation, soil moisture has improved in recent weeks with parts of the far west and southwest along with west-central and east central Wyoming moving above the 10th percentile.  
  • Temperatures:
    • Below-normal temperatures dominated the last 30 days in Wyoming with the exception of parts of the Green River Basin. The northern part of the state saw the greatest negative departures from normal, with much of the region reaching as much as 6ºF below normal.

Average Mean Temperature: March 21–April 19

30-day average mean temperature as a departure from the 1991-2020 average for Wyoming. Below normal temperatures dominated the last 30 days in Wyoming with the exception of parts of the Green River Basin.
30-day average mean temperature for Wyoming, from March 21–April 19, 2022. Source: Wyoming State Climate Office.

For More Information

More local information is available from the following resources:

In Case You Missed It

Upcoming Events

Prepared By

Joel Lisonbee
NOAA/National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS)

Erin Saffell
Arizona State Climatologist/Arizona State University

Peter Goble
Colorado Climate Center/Colorado State University

Jon Meyer
Utah Climate Center/Utah State University

Tony Bergantino
Water Resources Data System – Wyoming State Climate Office

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 status updates as conditions evolve.