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California-Nevada Drought & Climate Outlook Webinar: March 25, 2024

Event Date
March 25, 2024
Event Time
11:00 am - 12:00 pm

The March Drought & Climate Outlook Webinar provided updates on snow and rangeland conditions in California and Nevada.

The California-Nevada Drought Early Warning System March 2024 Drought & Climate Outlook Webinar is part of a series of regular drought and climate outlook webinars designed to provide stakeholders and other interested parties in the region with timely information on current drought status and impacts, as well as a preview of current and developing climatic events (i.e., El Niño and La Niña). 

For more information, please contact Amanda Sheffield (


Welcome to the California-Nevada Drought & Climate Outlook Webinar

Speaker: Julie Kalansky | California-Nevada Adaptation Program (CNAP, a NOAA CAP/RISA Team), CW3E, Scripps Institution of Oceanography



Drought and Climate Update

Speaker: Julie Kalansky | CNAPCW3E, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

  • Slow start to the water year in California-Nevada as precipitation picked up mostly at the end of January through March. Most recently, snowpack has reached near-normal levels. 
  • For variable regions, it seems likely that conditions will be relatively close to normal. 
  • Minimum temperatures have been about 2–6 degrees higher this water year than normal, but March has been cooler. 
  • Reservoir plus snowpack tracking indicates that water storage is slightly above normal for the Western Sierras and much above normal for Lake Tahoe. Last year’s wet conditions started the water year with regional reservoir storage above normal.
  • Soil moisture conditions are in the 70th–95th percentiles through much of the region. 
  • Streamflows are near normal in both regions for this time of year. 
  • Snowpack conditions in the Colorado River Basin are near normal. Lake Powell and Lake Mead are 2.45 million acre-feet (MAF) and 2.26 MAF, respectively,  more than last year. However, the current inflow forecast is below the historical average. 



Drought and Climate Outlook

Speaker: Nathan Patrick | NOAA National Weather Service California-Nevada River Forecast Center

  • There is a relatively healthy snowpack across most of the mountains in California-Nevada. 
  • El Niño is rapidly decaying and is expected to transition to neutral by late spring. The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center issued a La Niña watch.
  • The current seasonal outlook favors above-normal temperatures with increasing chances of above-normal conditions as you move north. Above-normal temperatures would dry out vegetation quicker.
  • Near-normal precipitation is favored for this time period as the season shifts into the summer dry season.
  • There are concerns that spring precipitation could fall as rain, which can harm snowpack with early melt out. Also, any increases in vegetation growth can increase fire fuel later in the fall. 
  • Sacramento River flow forecast: 6.2 MAF (134% of median). Having an average or above-average year does not eliminate the multiyear deficit that we’ve experienced. 
  • San Joaquin flow forecast to reach 3,730 KAF (123% of median). Last year was twice as high as forecasted this year—8.5 MAF of runoff.
  • Peak flow is expected in late April in northern California, mid to late May for central California, and early June for northern Nevada. Warmer than normal temperatures could cause peak flow dates to be earlier. 
  • See the NOAA National Weather Service California-Nevada River Forecast Center for more information. 



California Rangeland Update

Speaker: Leslie Roche | University of California Davis

  • Califorrnia has 57 million acres of rangeland (of which 34 million acres are grazed by livestock), which is a little over half of the state. Types include annual grassland, oak woodland, mountain meadow, and intermountain. 
  • California’s rangelands are also a biodiversity hotspot. 
  • Annual rangeland production is extremely variable due to the life cycle of the plants and linked to seasonal weather patterns. Annual growth is initialized with fall rain, followed by rapid growth with temperatures and solar radiation. The rapid growth stage ends with depleted root zone moisture.  
  • Where are we in terms of rangeland production? 
    • Drought has decreased compared to previous years. 
    • Northern/northeastern California: We are still early in the season, but generally in good shape for the coming season. 
    • North coast: There has been average to above-average forage growth since October. In lower pasture lands, saturated soil is limiting livestock access.
    • Sierra foothills: There has been normal precipitation but below-average forage production, potentially due to the timing and distribution of precipitation and solar radiation.
    • Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley: Conditions are average and better than in the last 2 years. 
    • Central coast: There have been reports of variable local conditions. Near the coast, forage is doing well, but moving inland, forage hasn’t grown much although rainfall is above average due to quickly drying conditions.
  • Visit UC Rangelands for more information. 



Nevada Rangeland Update

Speaker: Patti Novak-Echenique  | Nevada Bureau of Land Management

  • Rangelands are primarily federally owned in Nevada. 
  • Continental climate and variation in elevation change precipitation patterns, which impacts forage. Monsoonal moisture comes in late summer; otherwise, Nevada is in a basin and is the driest state in the nation. 
  • Long-term and short-term drought blends from BLM/ are showing near-normal conditions. This is less wet than in 2023. 
  • The Vegetation Drought Response Index (VegDRI) shows growth hasn’t quite started. Early forage has started, with some green-up on the valley floor. 
  • Summary:
    • There is good soil moisture throughout most of the state.
    • Temperatures have been above normal during the winter months. 
    • The Growth Yield Equation predicts an average growing season for most of the state if average conditions occur in the spring months. 
    • Lower-elevation hillsides and valley floors are beginning to green-up.



Introduction to the Colorado River Science Wiki

Speaker: Tanya Petach | Aspen Global Change Institute

  • Objectives: 
    • Share research relevant to the Colorado River 
    • Provide up-to-date overviews of many areas of science and applications 
    • Provide a one-stop shop for key datasets, online tools, and other resources 
    • Engage the broader Colorado River community in collating and sharing knowledge
    • Facilitate informed discussions and decisions 
  • See recording for a tour of the wiki.
  • Major funding: Southwest Climate Adaptation Science Center; U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. 
  • Visit the Colorado River Science Wiki for more information.



Q&A and Closing

Speaker: Julie Kalansky | CNAPCW3E, Scripps Institution of Oceanography

  • Register now for the next webinar in this series on Monday, May 28, 2024.