We all know we’ve been cool and wet, but WOW!

It has been a wet winter and spring where we live. If you are in the continental United States, it’s been cool and wet where you live, too. This has been the wettest 12 months in the history of the United States. (https://www.wunderground.com/cat6/Wettest-12-Months-US-History)

According to NOAA’s drought monitor (https://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/), almost no place in the US is currently in drought, which, if you follow these things, is pretty amazing.

Drought Map, Courtesy NOAA
The tan and yellow indicate that the area is drier than normal.

But here in Colorado, we have been really wet. How wet? Take a look at this:

This is the % of Normal Snow.

100% of Normal would be an average year — we are getting all the snow we normally do. So when it says that the San Juan Mountains are at 728% of normal that means they have over SEVEN TIMES as much snow as they normally do.

In Colorado, we tend to like the extra snow in the mountains; we view it as a bank account we can draw on — more is better.

But many farmers in the Midwest have yet to get into all their fields to plant this spring. The ground there is saturated, too muddy to support tractors, and the seeds might rot in the ground if they could plant. (https://weather.com/news/weather/news/2019-05-14-one-of-longest-lived-mississippi-river-floods-since-great-flood-1927)

The Mississippi River has been over flood stage since March. (https://weather.com/news/weather/news/2019-05-14-one-of-longest-lived-mississippi-river-floods-since-great-flood-1927)

Unfortunately, we better get used to it. Extremes in weather patterns are the new normal.

Snowpack Levels Low

Many people don’t realize that the western part of the United States is generally arid to semi-arid. The Pacific Northwest gets biblical amounts of rain, of course, because of the coastal mountain ranges wring the water out of the wet air. Every range of mountains east of the coast catches the ever drier air, and squeezes a bit more moisture out of it. In summer, this water usually falls as rain.

But in winter, the moisture falls in the mountains as snow. The snow builds up over the course of the winter into a thick covering called snowpack. The snowpack only begins to melt in the spring. Depending on how deep the snowpack is, it often lasts into mid summer, giving regional cities and farms a long lasting reservoir of water.

The most important river in the Southwest is the Colorado River, fed by the Green, Upper Colorado, Gunnison, Uncompahgre and San Juan basins. The entire Southwest, including Arizona, Los Angeles, San Diego and the Central Valley of California depend on the rain and snow that fall in these basins that feed the Colorado.

So about this time of year, I begin to watch the snow pack in the mountains to see how dry our summer is going to be. Red is below average, green is above average, white is average, and grey is non-reporting either because it doesn’t have snowpack or there was a glitch.2018-2-23 NRCS Map Jan 2018.jpg

In January, it was looking pretty grim. (January Snowpack) Only the Northern Rockies were in good shape. That didn’t actually surprise me, because we in Colorado hadn’t had any real snow falls in November, December or January.

But starting in February, we’ve had a bunch of little storms. Most of them have dropped less than 3 inches of snow, but it has begun to build up. (February Snowpack) The snowpack isn’t deep enough to make anybody breath easy yet. But the storms have added enough to give us hope that we won’t have water restrictions this summer.

2018-2-23 NRCS Map 4 2018 Feb

NRCS National Water and Climate Center

It all depends on the next three months. Spring is our wettest season, by far. If mother nature is kind, we can make up the deficit.

Fingers crossed.

 

Birds flee drought areas

I have seen more different birds at my feeders

Male American Goldfinch on top of feeder.

than I ever have before in the summer. In addition to the usual house sparrows, house finches, American and lesser goldfinches,

mourning and collared doves, house wrens and dramatic raids by Cooper’s hawks, we’ve had white-crowned nuthatches, chickadees, spotted towhees and black-headed grosbeaks – birds that pass through our yard

Female Black-headed Grosbeak atop another feeder.

Female Coopers Hawk has breakfast

spring and fall, but don’t usually linger here in summer. Huge hordes of hummingbirds have come through our yard in the past few weeks, getting an early start on their migration. It’s been a treat.
And yet…I have to wonder why we are seeing so many different birds in our yard, birds that usually move on to richer nesting grounds. The answer, I think, is that the animals’ breeding grounds this year are in bad shape. Drought – we have had just 5 ½ inches, less than half the precipitation that we normally do at this time of year. Heat – while we normally have 26 days above 90 degrees, this summer we have had a blistering 70 days. Fire – huge infernos have scorched hundreds of thousands of acres in the mountains and High Plains. The state has taken a beating. And the wildlife have to adapt as well as they can to these harsh conditions. Competing with a dozen other bird species in suburban backyards must look like a good deal when compared to nothing to eat and no cover in nearby wildlands.