WASHINGTON, May 14, 2014 -- While the northern half of the U.S. West saw a mix of rain and snow from April storms, the drought-plagued southern half, including California, got little relief, USDA’s latest assessment shows.

Streamflows that are far below normal are forecast for California, Arizona, New Mexico and western Nevada as well as the southern parts of Oregon and Utah and southwestern Idaho, the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s National Water and Climate Center (NWCC) said. These areas include many of the nearly 500 counties experiencing drought across the country, 57 of them in California alone, according to USDA disaster designations.

Washington, most of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and the northern parts of Colorado and Utah, are expected to have near normal or above normal water supplies.

Snowpack generally peaks in early April, and then begins to melt. Forecasters will continue to monitor conditions in preparation for the June 1 outlook, according to NWCC hydrologist Cara McCarthy. She said the rate of snowmelt in Montana and Wyoming will be especially important, because the record snow in some basins in those areas creates flooding potential.

“These areas will be most vulnerable if snow melts rapidly during a hot spell, or if there’s extreme rain while the streams are swollen with snowmelt,” McCarthy said in a USDA blog posting. “We’re hoping for a slow, consistent melt that will reduce the risk of flooding.”

Streamflow in the West consists largely of accumulated mountain snow that melts and flows into streams as temperatures warm into spring and summer. USDA scientists analyze the snowpack, air temperature, soil moisture and other measurements taken from remote sites to develop the water supply forecasts.


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