Limited water predicted west of the Continental Divide

Jan. 16, 2014 at 2:05 AM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- A limited water supply is predicted west of the Continental Divide -- west of the Rocky Mountains, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says.

In its first forecast for the year, the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service National Water and Climate Center also predicts normal water supply east of the Continental Divide. The Continental Divide is the principal, and largely mountainous, hydrological divide of North and South America -- extending from the Bering Strait to the Strait of Magellan, and separates the watersheds that drain into the Pacific Ocean and the river systems that drain into the Atlantic Ocean.

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," Tom Perkins, a NRCS hydrologist, says in a statement. "Early indications are it will be very dry in the western part of the West, but wetter as you travel east. New Mexico, Arizona, parts of Utah and southern Colorado are also expected to be dry."

Jan Curtis, a NRCS meteorologist, says 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.

Since 1935, NRCS has conducted snow surveys and issued regular water supply forecasts. Since the late 1970s, NRCS has been installing, operating and maintaining an extensive, high-elevation automated system called SNOTEL, designed to collect snowpack and related climatic data in the western United States and Alaska.

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