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Mountain West experts aid federal effort to improve drought monitoring, forecasts

This is an image taken from a mountain peak above Reno. The land is mostly brown with small patches of white snow. The sky is blue with white puffy clouds.
Jesse Juchtzer
DRI Science
The Desert Research Institute will help research how often spring heat waves happen and turn into snow droughts, as seen here on Peavine Peak above Reno, Nev., on April 14, 2021.

The federal government is spending nearly $5 million to improve drought monitoring and forecasts in the West, helping states, communities, and farmers better plan and prepare for droughts.

The funding will support seven research projects focused on bettering drought predictions. More than half of the money ($3.1 million) comes from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Integrated Drought Information System program. The remaining $1.8 million comes from the Inflation Reduction Act.

One project is studying how often spring heat waves happen and how frequently they turn into snow droughts, a period of abnormally low snowpack for the time of year. The three-year project, which was awarded nearly $750,000, also analyzes how those conditions affect downstream water supplies.

Researching ways to advance drought predictions is more important than ever, said Dan McEvoy, a professor of climatology at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev., who’s on the project team.

“We know that man-made climate change is really driving this increase in temperatures,” McEvoy said. “And so, that's really acting to make droughts worse than they would have been under a less warm climate.”

McEvoy said that’s especially true in the Southwest, where “there is an urgent need to do something about the declining water supply in the Colorado River Basin.”

Another project receiving $750,000 will try to help water managers along that shrinking river. Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder, Southern Nevada Water Authority, NOAA, and the Bureau of Reclamation are developing new tools to improve Colorado River streamflow forecasts used for water management decisions.

These efforts follow a recent Dartmouth study that found the U.S. drought monitor meant to guide emergency federal aid is not keeping up with climate change.

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, KUNC in Colorado, and KANW 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.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.
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