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This spring, a rare combination of exceptionally warm temperatures and near-record lack of precipitation in the western United States caused a rapid change in hydrologic conditions and an unexpectedly early onset of spring conditions.

With much of the western U.S. already in its fifth year of drought, an above-average western snowpack on 1 March 2004 provided hope for much-needed abundant runoff. Unfortunately snowmelt began far earlier than anticipated, resulting in dramatic declines in seasonal spring-summer streamflow forecasts as the month proceeded, declines more rapid by some measures than ever before in the past 75 years. With reservoirs near historic lows, many water users have been hard pressed to deal with the continuing drought.