A limited water supply is predicted west of the Continental Divide, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) National Water & Climate Center (NWCC) in its first forecast of 2014. NWCC also predicts normal water supply east of the Continental Divide and will continue to monitor, forecast and update water supplies for the next six months.
Monitoring snowpack of 13 western states, the center's mission is to help the West prepare for spring and summer snowmelt and streamflow by providing periodic forecasts. It's a tool for farmers, ranchers, water managers, communities and recreational users to make informed, science-based decisions about future water availability.
"Right now the West Coast is all red," NRCS hydrologist Tom Perkins said. "Early indications are it will be very dry in the western part of the West, but wetter as you travel east. There are some exceptions to this, as New Mexico, Arizona, parts of Utah and southern Colorado are also expected to be dry."
However, "that could all change by the end of the season. This early in the season — who knows? It always changes," Perkins said.
The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center's seasonal forecast is calling for a milder and somewhat drier winter for much of the West. According to NRCS meteorologist Jan Curtis there is a very small chance for normal precipitation on the West Coast.
"The North Cascades in Washington might have a normal year, but Oregon and California are unlikely to have normal precipitation," Curtis said.
Although NRCS' streamflow forecasts do not predict drought, they provide information about future water supply in states where snowmelt accounts for the majority of seasonal runoff.
In addition to precipitation, streamflow in the West consists largely of accumulated mountain snow that melts and flows into streams as temperatures warm into spring and summer.
"USDA streamflow forecasts play a vital role in the livelihood of many Americans," NRCS chief Jason Weller said. "With much of this region greatly affected by drought, our experts will continue to monitor snowpack data and ensure that NRCS is ready to help landowners plan and prepare for water supply conditions."