The wet spring across the Front Range brought much-needed moisture to Colorado, which had been classified as dry since last July, allowing more than 23% of the state to emerge from dry conditions in just five weeks.
Over the last 13 weeks, about half of the state has been relieved of drought, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Drought Monitor. Denver alone has had 8.4 inches of precipitation this spring.
“It’s been a great spring, just what we needed east of the (Continental) Divide,” said Russ Schumacher, director of the Colorado Climate Center. “The big snowstorm in March kicked it off, and then we’ve had this steady string of these upslope storms with rain or snow depending on where you’re at. Considering how bad things were last fall and the start of the winter, we’ve turned that around. But you look west of the divide, and it’s a totally different story, and that’s where those severe drought conditions continue.”
The current drought developed rapidly. No area in the state suffered from dry conditions as recently as July 2019. Now more than 16% of the state is in a stage-four “Exceptional Drought,” which is considered the worst. While most of the northeastern part of Colorado has quelled water concerns, for now, the northwest portion of the state, where the drought is at its worse, only saw the area of drought grow.
“The Park Range is the wettest and snowiest spot in the state on average, and they did not get the types of snowstorms that we would usually expect up there,” Schumacher said. “Things will probably get worse before they get better, and we don’t know that it will get better.”
The far northwest part of the state in the Yampa and White River watersheds is at 55% of the average snowpack. The worst-suffering region for snow is in the southwest, with the Gunnison River basin at 49%, the upper Rio Grande at 39% and the Four Corners area at 28%.
“The chances of things improving in the next couple of months is not high because it’s just not the time of the year when they usually get much rain or snow in northwest Colorado or southwest Colorado,” Schumacher said. “The next six weeks before you get to the end of July, or so, this is probably the driest time of year.”
Rain and snow are in the forecast for southwest Colorado, but they will not rally like eastern Colorado has. Things only have gotten worse this spring on the Western Slope, matching much of America’s Southwest.
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