Climate report shows central Nevada in good shape
January 15, 2019
Recent storms sweeping across Nevada have put the Silver State in pretty good shape, said Douglas P. Boyle, director of the Nevada State Climate Office, who issued his report Jan. 8 as part of the annual Cattlemen's Update at the Fallon Convention Center.
The Nevada State Climate Office is part of the Department of Geography at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Since a series of storms caused record snowpack and runoff two years ago, Nevada has since recorded precipitation below or near average since the water year began on Oct. 1. He said the Carson Basin, which was 65 percent of normal one year ago, has risen to 103 percent. The Walker Basin is at 93 percent of normal followed by Lake Tahoe at 90 percent.
"Hopefully, we'll get more storms since northeastern Nevada is in severe drought," Boyle said.
One beneficiary of the Sierra storms is Lahontan Reservoir west of Fallon. Water level at the reservoir was 119,377 acre-feet on Jan. 9 compared to 83,404 acre-feet in 2017. With a record year for runoff in 2017, the reservoir was able to store much of its water and began the water year at near capacity, which is 295,000 acre-feet. On Jan. 9, 2018, the reservoir measured 216,491 acre-feet. One acre-foot equals about 326,000 gallons, which would cover the size of a football field with water one foot deep.
Compared to other western states, Nevada is in good shape. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Boyle said the Four Corners area of southeastern Utah, southwestern Colorado, northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico show both severe and exceptional drought. Both central and eastern Oregon are experiencing severe to extreme drought.
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As of Jan. 8, the drought monitor shows two-thirds of Nevada as extremely dry, and central to western Nevada to include all of Churchill, Douglas, Lyon, Mineral and Storey counties, Carson City, and small sections of southern Washoe and northwestern Nye counties as abnormally dry, the second lowest classification. Eastern Elko and White Pine counties and the extreme northern section of Washoe County are classified as severe drought.
Just three years ago, most of Nevada was in severe to exceptional drought before the big storm barreled through the state in early 2017.
For cattle operations, Boyle said the drought monitor becomes a useful tool. He pointed out the Internal Revenue Service uses the monitor to determine the extension of the replacement period or any livestock sold because of drought and how the FSA (Farm Service Agency) administers its emergency loans programs. Boyle said the Department of Interior also allows Animal Unit per Month based on the reports generated by the drought monitor.
Boyle said the three-month precipitation forecast, similar to the one issued at the same time last year, shows most of the state in an EC status, meaning Nevada could either receive precipitation higher or lower than normal.
Two years ago, Nevada exceeded above normal precipitation with a series of storms that hammered the Sierra range in January and February. In 2018, the results were the opposite.
"January (2018) was dry across much of the state, although a storm in the Las Vegas area delivered an inch or so of rain over just two days in January," the Nevada State Climate Office reported. "February was dry just about everywhere, sparking fears that the winter would be dry. Fortunately, March brought some welcome rain and snow to the Sierra and Northern Nevada. March rain and snow brought some snowpack relief in the Sierra Nevada and northeastern Nevada. Many of the major basins had less than 50 percent of their normal snowpack at the beginning of March."
During January 2017, Boyle said at last year's Cattlemen's Update, about 20 feet of snow had fallen in the Sierra near Donner Pass.
Boyle said the temperature forecast for the next three months, however, will be 50-70 percent above average. He said the heaviest snowfall will be at the higher levels, usually 7,500 feet and higher, because of the warming. At the lower levels, Boyle said the snow melt will occur more rapidly.
"The maps are fairly accurate," he said.
Based on those predictions, he said the drought status for most of eastern Nevada looks like the drought removal is likely, but in the northeastern part of Elko County the drought will persist. All of Oregon and parts of southern Washington state and Northern California will remain in a drought status.
The Cattlemen's Update, which is sponsored by the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources (CABNR) with input from other government agencies, presents information on a variety of topics during one week in January to provide Nevada's cattle producers and ranchers with the most current education and research information.