Over the last two decades, the Colorado River Basin has been in an extended drought. This has resulted in substantial changes to the basin, including increased wildfire activity, vegetation shifts, and the depletion of streamflows and water levels in major reservoirs along the Colorado River, notably Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
In the winter of 2022-23, a series of storms traversed the western U.S. bringing multiple rounds of snow and rain, contributing to a Rocky Mountain snowpack that grew to near-record levels at some locations – making it feel like the drought was over.
But how wet was it really, when compared to historical averages?
In this interactive geonarrative, we compare precipitation and streamflow amounts observed during the 2023 water year with historical conditions over the last 30 years, which includes the current 20-year drought (2001-2022) in addition to the 10 years before the onset of the current drought (1991-2001). We show that while the 2023 water year was a wet year with above-average precipitation at many locations, it was not uniformly good or record-setting.