DENVER – Storms that have wreaked havoc from California to Colorado could mean relief for areas of the West that have suffered through five years of crippling drought (search).
"Since October, significant snowpack has been piling up from the Sierras to the southern and central Rockies," Douglas LeComte, drought specialist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (search), said in a statement Monday.
The snowpack water content is more than 150 percent of normal across much of the Southwest, from southern and central California into Nevada, Utah and western Arizona, LeComte said. He said more snow could help bring "significant" water flow to those parts of the West.
Heavy snow has fallen in the mountains of Colorado, California and Utah. In Colorado, the statewide snowpack Monday was 117 percent of average, compared with 107 percent last year on the same day.
"We're starting out very well for this year," said Dan Murray, water supply specialist for the Agriculture Department's Natural Resources Conservation Service (search). "This is one of the best forecasts we've had in a while."
LeComte urged water users to remain conservative despite the heavy snow, recalling that last spring unseasonably warm and dry weather quickly reduced the snowpack.
LeComte noted Lake Powell, which had reached the lowest levels ever, recorded above-average inflow in November for the first time since 1999. Other reservoirs in the Colorado River Basin remained near their lowest levels in 20 years.
Drought-affected areas of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Oregon haven't benefited as much from most of the storms, though the most recent storm did bring some snow to northern areas.