Most of Colorado in drought

Colorado state climatologist Nolan Doesken
Colorado state climatologist Nolan Doesken

Nearly all of Colorado is suffering from drought, climatologists say.

The latest graphic from the US Drought Monitor, pictured below, shows the ongoing drought problems being experienced across wider areas of the US.

Drought conditions over the last 18 months forced up hay prices in many areas and reduced grazing for livestock.

Colorado State University climatologists have officially confirmed 98 per cent of the state is experiencing varying levels of drought.

The most severe drought in the state is in the Arkansas Basin, where drought conditions range from moderate  to extreme as a result of last summer’s Texas drought, which also affected Colorado.

A newer area of severe drought has recently been added to the Yampa/White Basin in northwestern Colorado due to lack of sufficient snowpack this season.

Most of the Northeastern Plains are designated as abnormally dry.

In October, 60 per cent of the state did not have any drought categories. That has shrunk to 2 percent, said Nolan Doesken, the state climatologist  based at Colorado State University.

“Even though reservoir levels are still strong and northeast Colorado soil moisture is still pretty good, we just don’t usually start out quite this warm and dry at this time – so this is very concerning.”

Some comparison is being made to 2002, which was the last major drought in Colorado.

“In 2002, things didn’t seem that bad at the end of March as March had been quite cool with some snow,” Doesken said.

“April 2002 was a lot like March 2012 in that there was scarcely any precipitation statewide and the snowpack just disappeared without producing much runoff. I don’t recall much fire issues until mid April 2002, but then things started going crazy.

“There is plenty of time yet for at least some parts of Colorado to improve,” Doesken said. “Our spring ‘cool wet season’ continues into mid-May in southern Colorado and into the first or second week of June in northern Colorado. We typically need – and often receive – about three major widespread cold and soaking storms during this coming 10- to 11-week period along with increasing amounts of scattered thunderstorms, especially from late April onward.”

Statewide, the northeast plains have received less than 5 per cent of normal for the March – that’s the worst for the state, said Wendy Ryan, research associate who works with Doesken in the university’s Colorado Climate Center.

“The temperature has been 6 to 9 degrees above normal,” Ryan said. “The mountains have already started melting out after some improvement in February. I recently helped with the snow course at Cameron Pass and it’s only 50 per cent of normal at the end of March. The two lower courses, Big South and Chambers were single digit percents of normal with barely any snow cover at all.”

In Fort Collins, March was the warmest in 124 years of record keeping, Ryan said. It was also the driest. “This is the first time we’ve ever had only a trace of precipitation for March. No years have had zero.”

Ryan said the Front Range urban corridor has been one inch or more below average for March. The entire state is below 50 per cent with the exception of the far Eastern Plains, which have received some moisture.

The statewide snowpack has declined in recent weeks and is currently only 60 per cent of normal, she said.

“March is one of our bigger precipitation months on the Front Range so to not have anything is a big deal,” Ryan said.

“This is pretty much polar opposite to last year with record snowpack continued to accumulate in the mountains all spring.”

Drought monitor

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