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Snow drought is serious

By Staff | Jan 13, 2012

-Source AccuWeather.com.

State College, Pa. – AccuWeather.com reported Monday that the snow drought across the U.S. has raised questions about impacts on water supply, ski resorts and agriculture.

Only 22 percent of the nation was covered by snow on Jan. 4, the report said.

A snow depth analysis revealed this is the smallest area of the U.S. covered by snow on this date, among records dating back to 2004. The year 2007 ranks as the second smallest area of the U.S. with snow cover of about 27 percent.

The Intermountain West, especially the Sierras in California, and the mountains of Nevada and Utah, shows a substantial snow drought this year when compared to normal and past years.

The northern Plains and the upper Great Lakes are other areas that have little snow cover compared to past years.

Farm implications

The lack of snow cover across portions of the Midwest might spell “big trouble” for winter wheat yield later this year.

“If there is an arctic cold outbreak with below-zero temperatures, that could cause big problems for winter wheat,” said Dale Mohler, AccuWeather.com’s senior agricultural meteorologist, “which is planted in the fall and goes dormant in the winter.

“Subzero cold could cause stunted growth and reduce the production for this year’s wheat crop,” Mohler said, for those plants not under snow cover.

AccuWeather meteorologists believe that a change in the winter pattern is on the horizon, and more cold waves might penetrate the U.S.

Mohler said the lack of storms and mild weather are the factors that have left winter wheat vulnerable.

Most of the other crops of the Midwest should not be damaged by the lack of snow cover. However, many crops in this region rely on moisture from melting snow during the spring.

“If there is a snow deficit in the winter followed by a dry spring, that would be bad news for other crops as well,” Mohler said.

Short water supply?

According to the California Department of Water Resources, a snow survey on Jan. 3 suggested one of the lowest mountain snow packs on record for the date.

The statewide snow pack’s water content was found to be 19 percent of the Jan. 3 average.

The snow pack is usually at its peak early in April before melting in the spring.

Mountain snow that melts in the spring and summer accounts for about one-third of the water for California’s households, farms and industries, the California DWR said.

“Fortunately, we have most of winter ahead of us, and our reservoir storage is good,” said DWR Director Mark Cowin.

Ken Clark, AccuWeather.com senior meteorologist, who specializes in western forecasting, said that while snowfall amounts have been well below normal this season across the Sierra to the mountains of Utah, snow amounts were above normal across this same area last winter.

“After last year’s huge increases in the reservoirs, one year of drought may not bring massive changes in water allocations,” Clark said.

“The weather pattern we have seen for over the last month really does not change noticeably over the next couple of weeks,” he said, “I see no reason why there is much to be optimistic about seeing a major recovery in the snow deficit the rest of the winter.

“The big impact in the short term is on the ski industry,” said Clark.

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