Did winter storms across western US improve drought conditions in Las Vegas valley?

Local News

Winter storms in the valley and across the western United States have given the Las Vegas valley some much-needed rain and snowfall.

But is the above-average snowpack realistically putting a dent in our drought conditions?  According to experts, precipitation is a sign of progress.

“It’s helping,” said Stan Czyzyk, Science and Operations Officer with the National Weather Service in Las Vegas.

It’s early March, and snow is continuing to fall on the Rocky Mountains.  At one site in Colorado, there were even 22-inches of snow that fell Thursday.  But last winter at this same time, there was only 14 inches that fell.

“A substantial increase compared to last year,” said Czyzyk.

The NWS in Las Vegas says the Rocky Mountain snowpack is crucial because the snow melts and then that water flows into the Colorado River.

Southern Nevada gets 90 percent of its water from that source, which empties into Lake Mead.  But experts say while the snowfall is up, southern Nevada is not out of the woods just yet.

“If we get a wet winter and there’s a rapid warm-up, and we lose a lot of that snowpack quickly, then that’s not as sufficient either, so just having the wet winter isn’t necessarily going to help,” Czyzyk said. “The best scenario is we get a lot of snow late into the spring.”

Because of the snowpack, and local rain and snow storms, Lake Mead is getting a much-needed boost.

From December to the first week of March, the water level has gone up by 10-feet, but the drought lingers on.

With drought conditions being far from over, experts want to make sure everyone isn’t fooled by the recent flurries and rainfall seen across the valley or by the amount of water in detention basins. They say we still need to take precautions.

“It would still take several years of above average snowfall along the Colorado River for things to continue to return to what we thought was normal for water levels,” said  Corey Enus, public information coordinator for the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

The National Weather Service says it’s hard to forecast that far in the future. But they’re hoping for some serious snowpack.

“Kind of have to take it year by year,” Czyzyk said.

An updated Colorado River Basin forecast is expected to come out in about a week. It’ll have more information about expected water levels over the next two years for all reservoirs, including Lake Mead.

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