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Regional Drought Update Date
January 14, 2021
Site Section
Drought Status Update

Snow Drought Current Conditions and Impacts in the West


Update Status:

NIDIS, with its partners, releases these updates every 4 weeks December through June

Western snow drought remains as storms continue to track to the Pacific Northwest and Northern Rockies.

Key Points:

  • Snow drought has expanded and/or intensified across the Sierra Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and southwest Colorado.
  • While conditions improved in Washington and across northern Idaho and Montana, warm snow drought has developed in central and northern Oregon.
Current Conditions
Current Conditions: Snow Water Equivalent (SWE)

This USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) map shows Snow Telemetry (SNOTEL) snow water equivalent (SWE) basin values over the western U.S. as a percent of the NRCS 1981–2010 median. Only stations with at least 20 years of data are included in the station averages.

The SWE percent of normal represents the current snow water equivalent found at selected SNOTEL sites in or near the basin compared to the average value for those sites on this day. This map is valid as of January 10, 2021.

For an interactive version of this map please visit NRCS.

This USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) map shows Snow Telemetry (SNOTEL) snow water equivalent (SWE) basin values throughout Alaska as a percent of the NRCS 1981–2010 median. Only stations with at least 20 years of data are included in the station averages.

The SWE percent of normal represents the current snow water equivalent found at selected SNOTEL sites in or near the basin compared to the average value for those sites on this day. This map is valid as of January 10, 2021.

For an interactive version of this map please visit NRCS.

SWE Percent of NRCS 1981-2010 Median

The color with the hex code #0400ed identifies:
≥ 200%
The color with the hex code #0d6c88 identifies:
175%
The color with the hex code #19dc1e identifies:
150%
The color with the hex code #8feb94 identifies:
125%
The color with the hex code #fefefe identifies:
100%

The color with the hex code #ffd081 identifies:
75%
The color with the hex code #ffa200 identifies:
50%
The color with the hex code #ea5302 identifies:
25%
The color with the hex code #d60000 identifies:
≤ 0%
The color with the hex code #767676 identifies:
No basin value
Source(s):

USDA NRCS

Source(s):

USDA NRCS

Last Updated  -  01/13/21
Last Updated  -  01/13/21
Main Stats
79%
of western CONUS station SWE is below median
52%
of western CONUS station SWE is below 30th percentile*

Current Conditions

Since mid-December, little has changed in the spatial patterns of snow drought across the Western U.S. The storm track has remained active in the Pacific Northwest into the Northern Rockies with little moisture and snowfall in the mountains of the Southwest and Four Corners states. Currently, 79% of SNOTEL and Cooperative Snow Sensor stations in the West are reporting snow water equivalent (SWE) below the median (at least 20 years of data) with 52% below the 30th percentile. Snow drought has expanded and/or intensified across the Sierra Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and southwest Colorado. For example, all stations in Arizona and most in New Mexico with >20 years of record are below the 30th percentile. Conditions have improved in northern Idaho and northwest Montana from storms in late December and again in early January that brought heavy mountain snow and increases in SWE to above the snow drought threshold (30th percentile) and in some cases above median. Several lower elevation stations in the Cascades of central and northern Oregon are now reporting snow drought conditions due to warm storms, high snow levels, and lack of SWE accumulation. The higher elevation stations in this region are reporting near-to-above normal SWE.

Snowpack in most areas of Alaska, including the Kenai Peninsula and the mountains to the northeast of Fairbanks, is near or above average. However there are stations reporting SWE at or below median. Coldfoot, located on the south slope of the Brooks Range, is currently at the 12th percentile SWE with records going back to 1995. Higher terrain in the southern Panhandle appears to have limited snowpack (based on webcam images), but liquid precipitation has been excessive. 

A map showing snow water equivalent percentiles for SNOTEL and other Cooperative Snow Sensor stations in the Western U.S. The scale ranges from 0 (dark red) to 30 (yellow). Locations with low SWE values are located in all western stations.
Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) Percentiles for locations in the Western U.S. at or below the 30th percentile as of January 10, 2021. Stations above the 30th percentile are shown with a black “x”. Stations with at least 20 years of data were used and include SNOTEL and other Cooperative Snow Sensor stations. Data Source: USDA NRCS.
 A X-Y plot shows accumulated precipitation % of 1981-2010 median (X axis) vs Daily SWE % of 1981-2010 Median (Y axis) for Daly Lake, Oregon SNOTEL station. Lines track monthly precipitation and SWE with October in blue, November in gray, December in purple, and January in yellow. After initial high SWE % of median values in November, warm storms in mid-December led to warm snow drought conditions of increased precipitation but decreases in SWE.
Snow condition tracking diagram for Daly Lake, Oregon SNOTEL. SWE percent of median is plotted on the vertical axis vs. accumulated precipitation percent of median on the horizontal axis. Daily values are plotted as dots and connected with lines beginning on October 1, 2020 and ending January 6, 2021. Each month is shown as a different color. Tracking SWE vs. precipitation with time helps infer potential warm and/or dry snow drought. At this location, warm storms in mid-December led to increased precipitation but decreases in SWE compared to November. As of January 6, precipitation was at 85% of median and SWE at 11% of median. Graph created using the ​​​​​​WRCC Snow Drought Tracker.

 

* Quantifying snow drought values is an ongoing research effort. Here we have used the 30th percentile as a starting point based on partner expertise. Get more information on the current definition of snow drought here.

For more information, please contact:

Daniel McEvoy
Western Regional Climate Center

Amanda Sheffield
NOAA NIDIS California-Nevada Regional Drought Information Coordinator

Britt Parker
NOAA NIDIS Pacific Northwest and Missouri River Basin Regional Drought Information Coordinator

Special Thanks

 

NIDIS and its partners launched this snow drought effort in 2018 to provide data, maps, and tools for monitoring snow drought and its impacts as well as communicating the status of snow drought across the United States, including Alaska. Thank you to our partners for your continued support of this effort and review of these updates. If you would like to report snow drought impacts, please use the link below. Information collected will be shared with the states affected to help us better understand the short term, long term, and cumulative impacts of snow drought to the citizens and the economy of the regions reliant on snowpack.

Report your Snow Drought Impacts     Data and Maps | Snow Drought     Research and Learn | Snow Drought