USU team creates tool to predict drought and water flow along the Colorado River

A team of Utah State University scientists, led by Dr. Yoshimitsu Chikamoto, has developed a new tool that can be used to forecast weather patterns along the Colorado River for the next three years.

LOGAN – Because the Colorado River is the most important water resource in the western United States, tools to predict drought and low water levels could inform decisions that affect millions of people.

That is why a team of Utah State University scientists, led by Dr. Yoshimitsu Chikamoto, has developed a new tool that can be used so that every year a new forecast for the next three years can be created.

Matt Yost is an assistant professor in USU’s department of Plant, Soils and Climate and a member of the team.

“The goal of this project was to look near term and try to look a year or two years in advance to know if drought is coming,” Yost explained. “That is really important and really helpful for a number of people, for water managers or farmers or anyone else that uses water to know in advance — a year in advance — that a drought may be coming.”

Yost said the project was an intensive effort.

“(It) took several years to run data simulations and look for trends and develop this prediction tool and so it’s just being finalized, just being published, just now being made available to the public and water managers.”

The group’s paper was published Oct. 9 by Communications Earth and Environment, an open-access journal from Nature Research.

“In doing the work, we know that water managers don’t have tools to forecast Colorado River flows very long in the future and that is a constraint on what they can do,” said USU professor of climate dynamics Simon Wang. “We have built statistical models in the past and Yoshi (Chikamoto) has expertise and in-depth knowledge of ocean dynamics so we talked about giving it a try.”

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