Federal forecasters say a warm, dry February has increased the chances that Lake Mead will have a water shortage by 2018.
The Arizona Republic reports that El Nino brought a snowy winter to the Rocky Mountains, but things dried up in February. The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center projects that Lake Powell will hold only 80 percent of its long-term average amount of water this spring.
Lake Powell gathers most of the water that ultimately flows to Lake Mead.
Weather stations in the river basin have also recorded above-average temperatures, which could make future droughts even harsher.
University of Arizona geography professor Connie Woodhouse says past research indicates that droughts in the region will continue to get more intense as the changing climate warms the West.
“We’re seeing more of the years where you’re getting less (water) than you’d expect from precipitation, since '80s,” Woodhouse said. “Temperatures seem to be the predictor.”