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Intermountain West Drought Briefing: December 5, 2023

Event Date
December 5, 2023
Event Time
1:00 pm - 1:35 pm

Current drought conditions vary widely across the  Intermountain West. Only 9.6% and 4.8% of the northern states of Utah and Wyoming are in drought, respectively. Meanwhile, the central and southern areas of the region are experiencing Moderate to Exceptional Drought (D1–D4): 26.9% of Colorado is in drought (2.1% in D3), 96.8% of New Mexico is in drought (43% in D3–D4), and 57.2% of Arizona is in drought (6.1% in D3). Short-term and long-term drought persists in the southern portion of the Intermountain West. 

This webinar examined current conditions for the Intermountain West and the forecasted drought conditions for Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. 

For more information, please contact Dr. Gretel Follingstad (


Welcome to the Intermountain West Drought Briefing 

Speaker: Dr. Gretel Follingstad | NOAA's National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES)/CU Boulder

  • Welcome to the December Intermountain West Drought Briefing:
    • View past webinar recordings at
    • Introducing the speakers: 
      • Current  Conditions & Drought Outlook: Curtis Riganti – National Drought Mitigation Center
      • Fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA5) and NCA Interactive Atlas: Dr. Emile Elias – USDA Southwest Climate Hub
  • Explore historical drought conditions by county and state through the expanded Historical Drought Conditions Tool.
  • Read NIDIS’s first Western Snow Drought Status Update for Water Year 2024.



Current Conditions and Drought Outlook 

Speaker: Curtis Riganti | National Drought Mitigation Center, University of Nebraska–Lincoln

  • After a large-scale reprieve in drought conditions in the West (compared to much of 2020 to early 2023), drought conditions expanded again in parts of the Four Corners region, largely as a result of a very dry and warm monsoon season. 
  • Snowpack (expressed by snow water equivalent) in early December is well below normal in much of the Sangre de Cristo Range, parts of the San Juan Range, and in many mountainous areas of Wyoming, especially the northwest part of the Winds, the southern Bighorns, and the Snowy Range. This has led to some short-term Abnormal Dryness (D0) and Moderate Drought (D1).
  • Low snowpacks to start 2024 in the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan Mountains are notable, given the dry and warm monsoon these areas experienced.
  • Despite wetter conditions last year, Lakes Powell and Mead continue to run very low with respect to long-term averages, given the overall dryness and warmth of the last couple of decades.
  • Looking forward through the end of February, drought is expected to persist in areas where it is ongoing in the Intermountain West, except for parts of western Arizona. According to forecasts from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, the largest drought improvements from weather patterns expected with El Niño are likely to be in the south-central and southeast United States.



Fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA5) and NCA Interactive Atlas 

Speaker: Dr. Emile Elias | USDA Southwest Climate Hub

  • The Fifth National Climate Assessment (NCA5) was released in November 2023.
  • The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP)  was mandated by Congress in 1990 and is overseen by a federal steering committee.
  • The assessment is intended for everyone, and this assessment prioritized:
    • Advancing the conversation
    • Being accessible to a broad audience
    • Being creative in communication
    • Making it about people
    • Ensuring it is useful and usable.
  • There are 32 chapters of the NCA5 covering sectors, regions, adaptation, and mitigation.
  • New elements of the NCA5 include the public call for art, podcasts, webinars, and the NCA Interactive Atlas:
  • The entire assessment can be found at



Questions & Answers

Speakers: Dr. Gretel Follingstad | NOAA/NIDIS, CIRES/CU Boulder