Forecasting Change: Water in the West

Prolonged extreme drought continues for most of western US

Water in west

The warm weather this week has pushed daytime temperatures way above normal.

The 30-year average this time of year is about 81 degrees. This week has seen highs of 80, 81, 86 and 89 degrees. Back on the 18th, the high at Orlando International Airport shot to 91. Overall, it has been a very warm March.

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This trend is part of the self-evident reality that is climate change.

This week in Forecasting Change, we look at the prolonged drought in the West.

The graphic below shows where the West gets its water. The snowpack is a huge player in their water cycle and supply. Snow makes up more than 50% of the water supply in the entire West, and more than 70% in the mountains.

The problem kicks in with warming of the atmosphere. Since 1950, the snowpack there has been in decline. Warmer winter and spring seasons lead to early snowpack melts. That melting makes it harder to make the snowpack last into the warmer season when water demand peaks.

This graphic shows that some of the areas are melting more than three weeks earlier than they did in the early ‘80s.

Snowpack melting earlier

This view of the groundwater drought in the West shows the problem. Dry spells are common in the West, but now the area is in what is called a “megadrought.” It has been going on since 2000, and is the most severe in the last 2,100 years.

Groundwater drought

Here in Central Florida, we are no strangers to dry conditions. We are currently just below the normal for precipitation since January 1, but we ended 2021 more than five inches below normal.

If you are looking for ways to cut down on how much water you waste, consider these tips:

  • Turn off the bathroom faucet when you brush your teeth
  • Use low-flow faucets/showerheads and energy-efficient appliances
  • Plant native plant species in your yard
  • Fix leaky water faucets and pipes

About the Author:

Tom Sorrells is News 6's Emmy award winning chief meteorologist. He pinpoints storms across Central Florida to keep residents safe from dangerous weather conditions.