Low snow in winter will prolong drought

Feb. 23, 2013 at 11:42 AM
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DENVER, Feb. 23 (UPI) -- Drought will persist in the U.S. West this summer due in part to a lack of snow this winter, climate, agriculture and water resources experts say.

This week's blizzard brought some relief to the Great Plains but did little to help the West, where ranchers say hay they use to fed cattle is scarce and expensive, The New York Times reported Friday.

"It's approaching a critical situation," said Mike Hungenberg, who owns a 3,000-acre farm in Northern Colorado.

"A year ago we went into the spring season with most of the reservoirs full," Hungenberg said. "This year, you're going in with basically everything empty."

So little water is available, he said, he may scale back planting by a third and sow crops that require less water, like beans.

Reservoir levels are down significantly in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada, where the ground is abnormally dry, the Times reported.

"We're worse off than we were a year ago," said Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Forecasters say the West may yet get a wet spring, which would prime the soil for planting, but Andy Pineda of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District said the region is "running out of time" for that to happen.

"We only have a month or two, and we are so far behind it's going to take storms of epic amounts just to get us back to what we would think of as normal," Pineda said.

A national assessment of the drought found 55.8 percent of the United States are still drier than they should be, the newspaper said.

U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and other members of the state's congressional delegation have requested $20 million in emergency funds to help restore watersheds in Colorado ravaged by last year's wildfires. There has been little action on the measure, the Times said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said this week drought conditions had abated in most of the nation east of the Mississippi River, but the portion of the country still facing drought -- most of the West and Florida -- should expect it "to persist or intensify."

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