Water Year 2022 Recap
Happy New Water Year! The first day of October is also when folks restart their precipitation and snowpack meters and river gages. It is a time of hope (please give us more snow this time!) and reflection (last year was bonkers!). I’m going to stick with the reflection here.
The 2022 Water Year, which ended Sept. 30, was quite the rollercoaster ride. It started out looking grim in much of the West: Many ski areas weren’t able to hit their traditional Thanksgiving weekend opening and in some areas the end of November snowpack was in worse shape even than in 2002, the winter of everyone’s discontent.
Then came the December dumps, at least to some regions. California’s Sierras got hammered by record-breaking snowfall (193 inches in December). Southwestern Colorado went from parched to chest-deep-powder in a matter of weeks. Heavy traffic to ski areas snarled roadways.
To be sure, the bounty was spread out unevenly. Even as Front Range ski resorts were getting hammered, the Denver-Boulder metro area remained dry, warm, and windy as hell. The flammable combination ultimately led to the devastating Marshall Fire, which was sparked in the grasslands near South Boulder before tearing through suburbia and destroying more than 1,000 homes. It was finally extinguished by the season’s first real snowfall on New Year’s Eve.
The rollercoaster ride continued after that, with long, dry cold spells followed by big storms followed by unusually warm periods. Dry and wet offset each other in many areas, with snowpack peaking early, but at just-below to near-average levels across much of the West.
Summer followed in kind as hot and dry alternated with gully-busting storms. And despite all the flooding, monsoon precipitation amounts were about average in the Southwest.
And that kind of sums up Water Year 2022: It was full of superlatives, yet ended up more or less average, precipitation-wise. But in these days of aridification and warming temperatures, and following on the heels of two decades of drought, average just doesn’t cut it.
Despite near-average precipitation levels in the Colorado Basin, Lake Powell continued its steady decline, finishing the water year about 16 feet lower than the end of Water Year 2021.
To summarize: It was a year of more or less average precipitation and above average temperatures. While drought eased in some areas, aridification continues just about everywhere.