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A ‘historic’ winter continues to ease drought conditions in the Mountain West

A look a the snowpack levels in Wyoming near I-80 between Rawlins and Rock Springs as seen on Feb. 24, 2023.
Courtesy Of Wyoming Department of Transportation
A look a the snowpack levels in Wyoming near I-80 between Rawlins and Rock Springs as seen on Feb. 24, 2023.

In mid-March, nearly 80% of Nevada was experiencing drought conditions. Now, it’s less than 25%, according to the National Integrated Drought Information System, or U.S. Drought Portal.

Idaho’s drought level dropped from 73% to about 32%, and Utah isn't seeing extreme drought anywhere in the state for the first time in nearly three years, though about 40% of the state is still considered to be in moderate drought. New Mexico (32.2%), Colorado(37.9%) and Wyoming (31.3%) have seen little recent changes in drought levels, according to the U.S. Drought Portal.

Gretel Follingstad, U.S. Drought Portal’s Intermountain West drought early warning system coordinator, said the diminishing drought conditions are driven by the West’s “historic” winter.

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“We are seeing over 100% of normal snowpack and precipitation levels,” said Follingstad, who’s based in Boulder, Colo.

But what that means for the region’s water supplies over the next several months – in terms of stream flows and aquifer and reservoir levels – will depend on the rate of snowmelt, she said.

“If the melt occurs quickly, and we have flooding events, then that will eliminate the potential for good groundwater recharge because groundwater is recharged through slow infiltration,” Follingstad said.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2023 KUNR Public Radio. To see more, visit KUNR Public Radio.

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Kaleb Roedel