As climate changes, researchers develop a new metric for evaluating water available from snowpack

Throughout the western United States, communities rely on the storage of water in mountain snowpack to feed the rivers and reservoirs that provide drinking water and irrigation supplies. But climate change is changing that and the current methods of measuring how much water is stored in the mountain snow may provide an inadequate picture, according to Kathrine Hale, an author on a paper published this week in the journal Nature Communications: Earth & Science. Hale worked on the paper with a team of researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder, but she is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Vermont. The team developed a metric known as the Snow Storage Index that she says takes into account factors such as when the snow falls that impact how much moisture the mountains store and for how long. This new metric could help inform water management decisions as well as monitor ecosystem stress, according to the paper.

Grim forecast for the Rio Grande has water managers, conservationists concerned

This weekend’s warm and windy conditions were good for hiking or kite-flying. But they were tough on a river everyone is already expecting to be low on runoff this spring and summer. According to the National Water and Climate Center’s forecast for the Rio Grande Basin, the water supply outlook for spring and summer remains “dire.” In his monthly email, forecast hydrologist Angus Goodbody noted that while storms did hit the mountains in February, particularly along the headwaters in Colorado, snowpack in some parts of the Sangre de Cristo’s continued to decline. That means the river and its tributaries will receive less runoff than normal this spring and summer—and many areas may reach or break historic low flows. Last week, a new study in the peer-reviewed journal, Nature, also heralded troubling news.

Warm spring winds whip up more than dust

A dust storm closed parts of Interstate-10 near the border of New Mexico and Arizona Tuesday for the third day in a row. By 11:00 a.m., weather forecasters reported gusts of 50 miles per hour and that a “wall of dust was approaching the Las Cruces area from the west.” At the same time, wind advisories for the lower and middle Rio Grande Valley and the Estancia Valley were upgraded to “High Wind Warning.” That means people should expect sustained winds of 40-50 mph and gusts of up to 60-70 mph. High winds cause damage and raise the danger of wildfire. They also affect air quality, reduce visibility for drivers, aggravate allergies and in some parts of New Mexico, spread the spores that cause Valley Fever. With its playas—dry lake beds—the area near Lordsburg is notorious for dust storms, said National Weather Service meteorologist Kerry Jones.