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DATE: March 13, 2018

SNIP: The lack of snow across the West this winter points to a parched summer ahead.

In California, Colorado, and across the Southwest, the snowfall has ranked among the lowest on record. The last four months have also been among the warmest throughout most of the region, according to a report out last week. Parts of eight states already are already under “extreme” drought conditions.

“I don’t think it’s hyperbolic to say that this winter is the stuff of nightmares for water managers in the Colorado River watershed,” says Luke Runyon, a Colorado-based public radio reporter focusing on western water. Some 40 million people in seven states depend on water from the Colorado River.

In the river’s main storage spot, Lake Mead just south of Las Vegas, Nevada, water levels are on track to fall so low that they would trigger the first-ever official shortfall late next year, according to new data from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Water rationing would be the next step.

Warmer, drier winters like this one are exactly what you’d expect with climate change. A new study published earlier this month showed that over the past 100 years, more than 90 percent of snow monitoring sites throughout the West have seen a decline in snowpack. In total, that’s a loss of summertime water storage equivalent to Lake Mead.

It is a bigger decline than we had expected,” said Philip Mote, a climate scientist at Oregon State University and lead author on the study, in a statement. “In many lower-elevation sites, what used to fall as snow is now rain.”