Weather models show similar patterns
With record snowfall in the Sierra Nevada mountain range last year, the Silver State was able to move out of a drought condition that had plagued it for almost five years, said Douglas P. Boyle, director of the Nevada State Climate Office.
Boyle spoke Tuesday at the annual Cattlemen’s Update at the Fallon Convention Center. The Cattlemen’s Update, sponsored by the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and the College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources (CABNR) with input from other government agencies, travels to various locations during one week in January to provide Nevada’s cattle producers and ranchers with the most current education and research information. Boyle’s office,though, is part of the Department of Geography at the University of Nevada, Reno.
Compared to the same time one year ago, Boyle said the state’s drought monitor has gone from severe drought conditions in western Nevada along the Sierra Front to abnormally dry in an area consisting entirely of Clark and Lincoln counties and parts of Nye and White Pine counties.
“This is not actually a drought condition,” Boyle pointed out.
Boyle, who assumed his current position in 2012, said the state struggled with its extreme drought conditions, but the winter of 2015-2016 began to make a dent, and the 2017 snowfall and a deep snowpack erased it.
Although he doesn’t have information from this week’s storms in the Sierra, Boyle said the snow levels have been at a higher elevation. For example, about 3 feet of snow has been recorded at the 7,600-foot level, but the range is missing the mid- and lower-elevation snowpack. Within a few weeks in January 2017, though, he said about 20 feet of snow had fallen in the Sierra near Donner Pass.
Since the water year began on Oct. 1, Boyle said precipitation in the Lake Tahoe basin is 84 percent of normal, while the Walker Basin is at 72 percent and the Carson at 65 percent. Both the precipitation and temperature forecasts for the next three months, said Boyle, look eerily similar to the same time in 2017. Southern Nevada has a chance of being 70 percent below normal in precipitation, but Boyle said that figure diminishes farther north. As for Northern Nevada, he said the models show a 50-50 scenario where precipitation could either be below or above normal precipitation.
“We have a chance of a warmer January and February,” he said of the next three months. “The higher snowfall means less water going into the summer.”
One year ago, however, the snow could run off into area reservoirs, but not this month said Boyle. The reservoirs west of Reno are nearing capacity with a combined 32,934 acre-feet of water compared to the average of 21,256. The Carson River Watershed, which doesn’t have upstream reservoirs, relies on Lahontan Reservoir for storage. As of Wednesday, the reservoir is at 75 percent of capacity compared to 30 percent one year ago.
The first maps of 2017 show most of Nevada in a 50-50 situation with either above or below precipitation and above-average warmer temperatures. If projections remain steady, he said the seasonal drought outlook in the West remains low for Nevada, but the Southwest’s Four Corners area, all of Arizona and most of Utah are showing drought conditions as is extreme eastern Montana and the western half of both Dakotas.
Boyle also offered information to cattle producers and farmers on how to access the U.S. Drought Monitor and use the Farm Sustainability Assessment tool to determine livestock forage disaster program eligibility if Nevada should slip into a drought situation.
He said the drought monitor is important because it’s linked to both the FSA emergency loan and livestock forage disaster programs, enables the Internal Revenue Service to use the U.S. Drought Monitor to determine the extension of the replacement period for livestock sold because of drought and allows for animal unit per month designations by the Department of Interior.