Much to the surprise of meteorologists.
California’s “perma-drought” has been erased
As of June 24th, the Upper Colorado River basin snow water equivalent (SWE) is 4259% of average, which is 0,052 inches (1.3 mm). That translates into ~2.2 inches (55.2 mm) of water content left yet to melt out of the mountains.
While there’s no guarantee that next winter’s snowfall will be as richly generous as 2018/19 it definitely speaks to how cyclical precipitation patterns can be in the American West. In 2010/11 there was a massive snowpack that helped push Lake Mead’s water level far out of the danger zone of mandatory water delivery restrictions.
Then there was a period of dry years that hit California—and in March 2014 the Bureau of Reclamation decided to send a pulse of water down the Colorado River all the way to the Gulf of California. This pulse did wonders for restoring the environment of the river’s delta but did nothing for saving up water over the next few years. We were routinely lambasted with media puffery projecting Gov. Brown’s fears the California “perma-drought” would be the “new normal” for 40+ million people dependent on the Colorado River’s water. In 2016/17 an epic snowpack helped boost Lake Powell’s reserves—until that water too was sent downstream to Lake Mead, as the ongoing California drought showed no sign of abatement.
Enter the winter of 2018/19. Not only has California had one of its wettest winters on record, but its “perma-drought” has been erased much to the surprise of meteorologists and climate scientists. What’s not surprising is how the complicit media has given far less fanfare to what is extremely good news. The Upper Colorado River basin is still feeding this winter’s precipitation into Lake Powell and it’s not inconceivable that the lake’s mean elevation above sea level will rise another 20-25 feet (6-7.5 meters) before the melt ends sometime in July—well past the typical end date of June 15th.
We are currently waiting on the monsoon to begin here in Phoenix—the average starting date is July 7th. Sometimes there can be monumental storm clusters that dump upwards of 8 inches (20 cm) of rain in 24 hours. All that rain naturally runs off into otherwise dry wash basins until the flow slows sufficiently for it to soak deep into the ground below. More often than not, the rain totals are far less. But repeated rains over a prolonged monsoon can add up—as does the winter snows melting in the mountains to refill the largest reservoirs on the mighty Colorado River. Whatever comes of the monsoon and the snowpack over the next five, ten, or 20 years, one thing can be certain: some years it will be epic, and some years it will be epically dry.
In other words, business as usual despite ongoing climate change. People need to remember that and dispense with the histrionics.