drought

Tom Koerner, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The time between precipitation events in the West is increasing. That could have negative effects on ecosystems and wildfires.

Madi Crawford

Wide open spaces, like much of Wyoming, are known to be strongholds for pollinators like butterflies. They often contain critical habitat and food resources, far away from the disturbance of human civilization. But it turns out even those areas are under threat.

New research published in the journal Nature Climate Change finds that snow is melting earlier – often in the winter. That’s a bad sign for the Mountain West. 


Sims Cattle Company

It's no secret that Wyoming produces a lot of beef. After all, agriculture is Wyoming's third-largest industry. But producing anything in this state requires a lot of resources, especially water.

A recent snowstorm that blew through the Mountain West was a welcome sight for states facing extreme drought. But across the southern half of the region, it may not have been as beneficial as it looks. 


Dry conditions are the worst they’ve been in almost 20 years across the Colorado River watershed, which acts as the drinking and irrigation water supply for 40 million people in the American Southwest.

As the latest round of federal forecasts for the river’s flow shows, it’s plausible, maybe even likely, that the situation could get much worse this year.

George F. Mobley, National Geographic

There are two ways rocks break down. Chemical weathering happens when water dissolves minerals in a rock, causing cracks. Physical weathering happens as the surface erodes. Because there's less material on top of them, deep rocks rise towards the surface.

NRCS Wyoming

According to a recent report, most of Wyoming snowpacks are below average, with the majority seeing anywhere from just 70 to 89 percent of the 30-year median average. Only the Yellowstone and Shosone basins in the Northwest are close to average.

Greg Sanders

Scientists have found that wildfires in hot and dry conditions are becoming more frequent.

Brandenburg/Minden Pictures/Newscom

Researchers at the University of Wyoming are studying a weather modification technology that may increase snowfall, called cloud seeding, to see if it can help with droughts.

Governors across the West are asking for federal support to ensure that wildfire restoration becomes a priority, just like wildfire suppression and mitigation efforts.

Shaul Hurwitz

Old Faithful geyser is one of the most popular areas in Yellowstone National Park. But a major climate event nearly 800 years ago made the geyser a little less faithful. Wyoming Public Radio's Ivy Engel had a conversation with U.S. Geological Survey research geologist Shaul Hurwitz, who studied this strange period.

US Forest Service

The Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) team assembled by the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland has completed its assessment for the Mullen Fire area. 

Drought, wildfire and record-breaking heat are all part of the current climate landscape in the Mountain West. 

It’s a triple whammy that’s expected to continue into the coming months. 

In June of 2002, nearly half a million acres burned in the Arizona high country. At the time, the Rodeo-Chediski Fire was the largest wildfire in the state’s history. There was too much fuel in the forest, a buildup that began more than a century ago. Enough people saw the record-breaking fire and agreed that something needed to be done to prevent the next big fire.

On the side of a rocky hill in Sheridan County in northern Wyoming, Brain Mealor is showing off all of his weeds.

“Here, let me grab a cheatgrass so you can see it, too,” he said, plucking a wispy sprig from among the grasses. “They all kind of look the same this time of year.”

Mealor is the director of the University of Wyoming’s Research and Extension Center in Sheridan. He’s performing experiments on how to manage and kill invasive annual grasses, like cheatgrass, ventenata and medusa head, with herbicides.

For many communities in the West, the water that flows out of kitchen faucets and bathroom showerheads starts high up in the mountains, as snowpack tucked under canopies of spruce and pine trees.

This summer’s record-breaking wildfires have reduced some of those headwater forests to burnt trees and heaps of ash. In high alpine ecosystems, climate change has tipped the scales toward drier forests, lessened snowpack, hotter summers and extended fire seasons.

Major wildfires have burned through the Western U.S. in 2020, breaking records for their scale and damage. As firefighters tamp down their immediate effects, those who live nearby are coming to grips with the lingering danger of wildfires. Even long after the flames are gone, residents face a serious increase in the threat of flooding.

National Park Service hydrologist Erin White likes to call Yellowstone “America’s first water park.”

It’s home to the headwaters of multiple major rivers and hundreds of waterfalls. Thousands of geysers, mudpots, and hot springs—heated by an underground supervolcano—gush, bubble, and boil in the national park’s 2.2 million acres, too.

Drought.gov

A $48 million project will fund climate monitoring stations across the Upper Missouri River Basin in five states, including Wyoming.

A few weeks ago, rancher Noah Brooks said what was troubling him most was the weather.

“The fact that it didn’t rain, June, July, August but maybe three times, that this community runs around cattle and feed and if we don’t get some rain, we’re in big big trouble, and I think that we’re drying out,” he said.

Brooks lives in Clark, Colorado. But the conditions he describes are persistent throughout the region.

Chip Redmond / InciWeb

Every four years there's a near universal complaint that western issues get passed over in presidential elections. Not this year, which is mostly because large swaths of the West have been burning.

Firefighters have long studied how fires behave to figure out where they’re going and how to keep people safe. But wildfires are becoming more unpredictable.


The Mountain West has seen plenty of wildfires this year, but nothing like the catastrophic large fires still burning along the West Coast. That's largely thanks to a relatively wet spring.

Many communities in the West are growing, and in some places that’s putting pressure on already scarce water supplies.

That’s the case in northern Colorado, where a proposed set of reservoirs promises to allow small suburbs to keep getting bigger. The project, called the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP), has stirred up a familiar debate over how the West grows, and whether water should be a limiting factor.

Bernard Spragg

A study by the Bureau of Reclamation predicts that the current water levels in the Colorado River Basin will only postpone water shortages.

Brocken Inaglory / (CC BY-SA 3.0)

As August comes to an end, conditions are ripe for potential fires.

Many counties and federal agencies have issued fire restrictions throughout the state due to the prime fire conditions: hot, dry and windy.

No, it's not a sci-fi movie. A fire tornado touched down near the Nevada-California border Saturday, during the Loyalton Fire about 25 miles west of Reno, Nev.

There's an effort afoot to better identify heat waves – like the one gripping much of the American West right now.

K Kendall

Most of the West has been experiencing drought this year. Bart Miller, with the environmental group Western Resource Advocates, said that the water levels we are seeing this year are nothing new.

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