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Regional Drought Update Date
June 17, 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.

As Summer Heats Up, the Monsoon Is on the Horizon

Key Points

  • Severe (D2) to exceptional (D4) drought persists across the Intermountain West.
  • The seasonal outlook hints at a wet Southwest Monsoon season.
  • Floods replace drought in northwestern Wyoming.
Current Conditions
U.S. Drought Monitor Conditions: Intermountain West | June 14, 2022

Current U.S. Drought Monitor map for the Intermountain West Drought Early Warning System (DEWS) region with data valid for June 14, 2022. The U.S. Drought Monitor is updated each Thursday to show the location and intensity of drought across the country.

38% 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
27%
of Arizona is in extreme (D3) to exceptional (D4) drought
16%
of Colorado is in extreme (D3) to exceptional (D4) drought
90%
of New Mexico is in extreme (D3) to exceptional (D4) drought
83%
of Utah is in extreme (D3) to exceptional (D4) drought
5%
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, central Utah, southeastern Colorado, and has recently expanded into western Arizona.
  • 38% 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 May 17–June 14, 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 May 17–June 14, 2022. Source: National Drought Mitigation Center.

Water Availability Forecast

With the seasonal snowmelt almost complete, Upper Colorado River Basin water supply forecasts generally range between 35%–95% of the 1991–2020 historical April–July average. Great Basin water supply forecasts are 35%–85% of average.

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 35% and 85% of runoff is forecast for the April-July period.
April–July runoff volume guidance as a percent of 1991–2020 average. Valid June 13, 2022. Source: National Weather Service, Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.

Forecasts and Seasonal Outlooks

July 2022

Fire risk is elevated for drought-stricken areas of the Intermountain West:

  • The Southwest Monsoon onset is expected to reduce significant wildland fire potential over the Southwest.
  • Significant wildland fire potential remains elevated over northern Utah and eastern Colorado and Wyoming.

Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook: July 2022

The Northern Utah and the plains of Colorado, and Wyoming can expect above normal wildland fire potential through early summer.
Significant Wildland Fire Potential Outlook for July 2022. Above-normal indicates a greater than usual likelihood of significant fires. Source: National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) Predictive Services.

According to the Climate Prediction Center's monthly outlook for July:

  • Increased temperatures are likely across the whole Intermountain West region with the highest odds over northeastern New Mexico and southern Colorado.
  • The Southwest Monsoon is likely to see a wet start to the season, with above-normal precipitation likely for most of Arizona and some of western New Mexico.
  • Odds favor below-normal monthly precipitation for the plains of eastern Colorado and eastern New Mexico.

July 2022 Temperature Outlook

The monthly outlook for July 2022 shows an increased probability of above-normal temperatures across the Intermountain West.
Monthly temperature outlook for July 2022, showing the probability (percent chance) of above-normal, below-normal, or near-normal conditions. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

July 2022 Precipitation Outlook

The monthly outlook for July 2022 shows an increased probability of normal to above normal precipitation for the Southwest and below normal precipitation for eastern Colorado and eastern New Mexico.
Monthly precipitation outlook for July 2022, showing the probability (percent chance) of above-normal, below-normal, or near-normal conditions. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

3-Month Outlook for July–September 2022

Seasonal forecasts show a hotter-than-normal season ahead for the Intermountain West, but hint at an active Southwest Monsoon season:

  • Odds favor increased temperatures through the remainder of summer 2022 for the Intermountain West region.
  •  Normal to above-normal precipitation is likely for the Southwest Monsoon season, which usually runs from June 15 through September 30. Monsoonal rainfall is highly variable throughout the season. 
  • Lower-than-normal precipitation is more likely than not for Wyoming and eastern Colorado, and odds slightly favor a drier-than-average season in eastern New Mexico.

Three-Month Temperature Outlook: July–September 2022

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

Three-Month Precipitation Outlook: July–September 2022

Climate Prediction Center three-month precipitation outlook for July to September 2022.  Odds favor above normal precipitation for Arizona.
Three-month precipitation outlook for July–September 2022, showing the probability (percent chance) of above-normal, below-normal, or near-normal conditions. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

Seasonal Drought Outlook

  • With the precipitation outlook leaning toward a wet monsoon season, some short-term drought improvement is likely for the Southwest. However, similar to what happened in summer 2021, a robust monsoon season will not eliminate long-term drought in the region. 
  • June, July, and August are typically the driest months of the year for northern Utah and northern Colorado, and it would be unusual for drought to be removed in these regions in summer.

June 16–September 30 Drought Outlook

. Current drought conditions over the western U.S. are forecast to persist through September 30, 2022.
U.S. seasonal (3-month) drought outlook, predicting where drought is likely to persist, improve, develop, or be removed from June 16 to September 30, 2022. Source: NOAA Climate Prediction Center.

La Niña Persists and May Impact Winter Weather

  • One of the primary drivers of drought across the Southwest through winter and spring was a La Niña pattern in the Pacific.
  • The June 5 weekly NINO3.4 value was −0.5 °C, indicating an expected seasonal decline in a persistent La Niña pattern 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 southern Arizona and decreased precipitation in northern Utah and Wyoming (learn more). No two La Niña patterns are the same. 
  • The latest forecasts for winter 2022–23 indicate that another La Niña is slightly more likely to occur than a neutral pattern this winter, and an El Niño is unlikely. This means another dry winter is possible for the Southwest.
  • For more information, please check out the NOAA El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) blog

Sea Surface Temperature Anomalies (°C) for May 30–June 5, 2022

Map of the Pacific Ocean showing sea surface temperature anomalies (in degrees Celsius) for 30 May to 5 June, 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 May 30–June 5, 2022. Blue shading in the equatorial Pacific indicates cooler water temperatures consistent with a La Niña pattern. Source: Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

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 May 2022 to March 2023. Source: International Research Institute

State-Based Conditions and Impacts

Arizona

  • As of June 14, the majority of Arizona (75%) moved to extreme (D3) or severe (D2) drought, while 3% of western Arizona remained in exceptional (D4) drought. Central Arizona retained moderate (D1) drought, with abnormally dry (D0) conditions along the higher elevations of the Mogollon Rim.
  • The past two months ranked as the driest April–May on record, with no measurable precipitation anywhere in the state during May and only an isolated amount in April. 
  • Arizona has experienced a total of three Type 1 wildland fires to date this year (Pipeline, Haywire, and Tunnel), all located largely in the grasslands in central Coconino County. Thousands of household evacuations were ordered.
  • The calendar year to date ranks as the 3rd driest and 14th warmest on record.

5-Month Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI)

Standardized Precipitation Evapotranspiration Index (SPEI) for January to May across Arizona
Standardized Precipitation Evaporation Index (SPEI) for January to May for Arizona. Source: WestWide Drought Tracker.

Colorado

  • Colorado experienced near-normal temperature and precipitation conditions over the month of May. By and large, this did lead to some improvements. May is part of the wet season for much of Colorado, so in many ways, an average May is a relief. 
  • Conditions were quite mixed across the state. The northwest and southeast quadrants of the state received above-average moisture. The southwest corner was dry, and snow melted early.
  • Streamflows peaked in mid-May, which is earlier than normal. Flows were then slowed by a cold snap. Streamflows rebounded to near peak levels following the cold snap. Cumulative flows are looking better than the last two years for northern Colorado. The Colorado Headwaters and Yampa River Basins are running near 30th percentile historical values. With a dry spring, streamflow conditions in southern Colorado are straying well into the below-normal range.

Water Year Cumulative Streamflow

Water year cumulative streamflows at Yampa River in Steamboat, Colorado

Water year cumulative flows for the Animas River at Durango (southern Colorado)
Water year cumulative flows for the Yampa River at Steamboat in northern Colorado (top) and for the Animas River at Durango in southern Colorado (bottom). Source: U.S. Geological Survey WaterWatch.

New Mexico

  • Statewide, spring (March-April-May) 2022 was the 6th driest spring on record for New Mexico with 0.76 inches of precipitation.
  • The Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire Complex and the Black Fire are the first and second largest fires in modern records for the state of New Mexico.
  • As of June 15, reservoir storage along the Rio Grande and Pecos River Basins is very low. Along the Rio Grande, Elephant Butte is at 10% full, and Caballo is at 11% full. On the Pecos River, Sumner is at 23%, Brantley is at 28%, and Avalon is at 21%.
  • A new state-wide Drought Severity and Coverage Index (DSCI) record for New Mexico occurred on June 14, 2022 with a score of 440.03. This is the most intense drought in New Mexico since June 25, 2013. 

Reservoir Storage: Rio Grande and Pecos Rivers

Map of the Rio Grande and Pecos Rivers reservoirs showing teacup diagrams of reservoir height. The values shown are also included in the text above the figure.
Reservoir storage in the Rio Grande and Pecos Rivers as of June 15, 2022. Source: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Utah

  • Extreme drought (D3) has expanded, and exceptional drought (D4) has been introduced across southern Utah due to limited to no late-spring precipitation, combined with high evaporative demand from unseasonably warm temperatures and frequent strong wind events.
  • Spring runoff has not sufficiently recharged the major reservoirs of the state, leading to year-over-year declines and scaled-back water supply forecasts by river forecast centers.
  • The Great Salt Lake will enter historically low water levels once again this summer, and is now expected to experience significant ecological damage to local biology due to rising salinity levels. The exposed lake bed also contains high levels of arsenic and mercury, causing concern for toxic dust lofted into local populations during wind events.

June Reservoir Fill Percentage and Water Supply Forecast

Utah June reservoir fill percentage, alongside the June 1 water supply outlook
June reservoir fill percentage (left) along with June 1 water supply outlooks from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (right). Sources: Utah Department of Natural Resources; Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.

Wyoming

  • Precipitation/Snowpack:
    • The snowpack melt out continued into June.
    • Rapid melt out, with soil moisture levels above median, coupled with a heavy precipitation event on June 11–13 that produced rainfall totals up to 4 inches, pushed streams to overflowing. This caused extensive damage in the Yellowstone area and the closure of the park.
    • Precipitation in the last few weeks, especially in the north even prior to the June 11–13 event, lessened drought conditions across much of the northern tier of the state.
  • Soil Moisture: 
    • Soil moisture continued to improve in the northern part of the state but deteriorated in the south.
  • Temperatures:
    • Slightly cooler than average temperatures prevailed across Wyoming in the last 30 days with most of the state being less than 3ºF below average.
    • Small pockets of the southeast saw mean temperatures over this period that were up to 3ºF above average.  

72-Hour Precipitation Totals through June 14

72-hour precipitation totals (inches) across Wyoming through 5 p.m. MT June 14, 2022.
72-hour precipitation totals (inches) ending 0500 MT on June 14, 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.