The western snowpack this year isn’t just low, it’s already gone, a regional hydrologist says.

Adding to the drumbeat of drought worries throughout the West, David Garen of the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service in Portland said much of the snow that should feed streams this summer has already melted.

Garen said it’s too late to catch up with a spring snowstorm.

“It already being into May, we’re well past the snow accumulation season now,” he said.

Snow remains in higher elevations in isolated parts of the West, including the northern Cascades, northern Colorado, western Montana and southern Wyoming, Garen said, and snow in British Columbia should continue to feed the Columbia River this summer.

Otherwise, the outlook is dry.

Streamflow projections as of May 1 are well below average in most of the West, and irrigators who rely on streams will most likely face shortages. Reservoir storage is below normal in the Southwest, Nevada and Oregon, according to NRCS.

Many NRCS automated snow stations registered record low snowfall totals this winter. In Oregon and Washington, much of the precipitation fell as rain rather than snow, Garen said, while California was just dry.

The snowpack deficit means “the mountains are missing several feet of water” that is normally in frozen storage at higher elevations, according to NRCS.

“It’s quite striking,” Garen said.


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