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national water and climate center

Want to Know about Soil Moisture on your Farm? Soon, There May be an App for That

“Probably it is one of the most innovative interagency tools on the planet.”  So said Dr. Roger Pulwarty, Director of the National Integrated Drought Information System (of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, located in Boulder, CO), in describing the development of a coordinated National Soil Moisture Network.

Americans hear the words “drought” and “flood” quite often, but a key factor in determining drought or flood potential, crop yield, water supply, hydrology or climate change impacts is soil moisture.  At the Ag Outlook Forum, held recently in suburban Washington, D.C., Dr. Michael Strobel, director of USDA’s National Water and Climate Center (part of the Natural Resources Conservation Service) outlined plans for a nation-wide soil moisture monitoring system and the pilot system that will pave the way.

Surveyors Learn to Measure Snow, Prepare for Risks in Remote Mountains

If you live in the western United States and you’re sipping a glass of water, irrigating your crops, lighting your home with hydrological-sourced energy, or enjoy skiing or fishing, you’re probably using information made available from USDA’s snow survey program.

Snow provides 50 to 80 percent of the western water supply and while many agencies, utilities, Tribes and others have a role in snow surveys, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) leads efforts to make sure all the players use accurate and consistent methods and come home safely. NRCS just released its February forecast.

Early-Season Forecast Shows Rain - Not Snow - Keeping Pacific Northwest Wet

Something about January’s water supply forecast confused me. Current condition maps of the Pacific Northwest are a discouraging spread of red dots, meaning the snowpack contains less than half the normal amount of water. But water supply forecasts for the same region predict normal streamflow in the spring and summer. How can that be? Less snow means less snowmelt, right? Well...maybe.

To rise above my simple, linear thinking, I met with Rashawn Tama with USDA’s National Water and Climate Center. Tama, a hydrologist and forecaster for USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, produces forecasts for the Columbia River basin. His forecasts are built around prediction models that help transform tables of raw data into meaningful maps and colorful dots.

Soil and Climate Data Help Farmers Reduce Severe Weather Risks

Utah dairyman Dee Waldron watches the weather closely. He wants clear, up-to-date weather and climate information anytime and anywhere that help him make critical farming decisions, such as when to irrigate, plant and harvest.

Waldron operates a dairy and feed grain farm in Morgan County, just east of Salt Lake City. This area is considered a high mountain desert and is not very productive without annual mountain streamflows stored in irrigation reservoirs.

“Before, I used to take a shovel in the field, dig down, and guess by feeling how much moisture was available for my crops,” Waldron said.  “Now I use my computer and iPhone to access the local weather forecast, the amount of soil moisture, the snow levels in the mountains, the amount of water in the river, and even the soil temperature. This really helps us as agricultural producers.”

Final Yearly Snowpack Forecast Divides West into a Wet North and Dry South

Every winter Westerners look to the mountains and may not realize they’re peering into the future. More snow cap means more water come spring and summer. Many lives and livelihoods depend on nature’s uneven hand.

Thanks to USDA’s National Water and Climate Center, what used to be speculation is now science. Through a network of high-elevation weather stations across the West, the center accurately forecasts how much water Western states will receive from snowmelt.

The data benefits everyone in the path of the streamflow. The center’s water supply forecasts empower states to take action to prevent flooding or prepare for drought. Some farmers look to the water supply forecast when deciding what crops to grow. It’s like playing chess with nature, and you can almost see nature’s next move.

Western USDA Water Supply Forecast Tracks Melting Snowpack

April storms delivered a mix of rain and snow to the northern half of the West but didn’t provide much relief for the dry southern half, according to the latest USDA water supply forecast.

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, according to the forecasts from the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s National Water and Climate Center (NWCC).  Streamflows that are far below normal are forecast for the southern parts of Oregon and Utah, southwestern Idaho, California, Arizona, New Mexico and western Nevada.