Drought is tightening its grip across the Southwest as extreme conditions spread from Oklahoma to Utah, according to a new federal data released Thursday.
On the southern high plains, Oklahoma remains ground zero for the worst drought conditions in the United States. About 20 percent of the state is facing exceptional drought conditions — the worst possible classification.
Most of Colorado also is under severe drought and almost all of the Texas Panhandle is seeing extreme drought or worse conditions.
The federal drought map shows dry conditions have intensified across northern New Mexico and expanded in Arizona.
Nearly half of New Mexico and Arizona are facing extreme drought or worse conditions while about 60 percent of Utah is under severe drought. according to the National Drought Mitigation Center.
Along the Rio Grande in New Mexico, the irrigation allotment will be less than half of what farmers received last year due to subpar snowmelt from the mountains.
Like other states, Utah's drought can be traced to a 12-week stretch of low precipitation this winter, when the mountains saw some of the lowest snow totals in recent history — also an ominous sign for the state's renowned skiing sites.
"People come here to ski Utah powder, and when you don't have it snowmaking has to take over," said Brian McInerney, a hydrologist at the National Weather Service. "Snowmaking is not as good as what you get naturally from the atmosphere."
Much of Utah's water reserves were replenished last winter, after a bruising period from 2012 to 2016 that nearly depleted the state's water reserves.
As a result, lack of water isn't a concern now, McInerney said.
But danger of forest fires will be elevated as the hot summer edges closer, he said.
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