This winter, the West has been slammed by wet weather. Heavy rains have pummeled California, and the Rocky Mountains are getting buried with snow.
That's good news for the Colorado River, where that moisture hints at a possible springtime boost for massive reservoirs that have been crippled by drought. Climate scientists, though, say the 40 million people who use the river's water should take the good news with a grain of salt.
Snow piled high in the Rockies is crucial for the Colorado River — a water lifeline for people from Wyoming to Mexico in an area commonly referred to as the Colorado River Basin. Before water flows through rivers, pipelines and canals to cities and farms across the region, it starts as high-altitude snow. In fact, more than two-thirds of the river begins as snow in Colorado. This year, snowfall totals are well above average, but climate scientists say the winter is far from over and conditions could change bringing less precipitation.
"Everybody is so eager to make an early call on this," said Brad Udall, a water and climate researcher at Colorado State University. "Invariably, you'll get caught with your pants down if you think you know what's going to happen."