It’s official – Colorado is drought-free after a record amount of precipitation

By Amber McIver-Traywick

The Surveyor

This winter there was a record amount of precipitation that fell across the state of Colorado and that means, for the first time in 21 months, the state is completely drought-free.

Since the first time the U.S. Drought Monitor began in 2000, there are no moderate, severe, extreme or exceptionally dry conditions in Colorado. This is a dramatic change from last year when 65 percent of the state was in drought conditions and 80 percent was in a dry status, including here in Berthoud.

Last year the agriculture economy in Colorado, particularly the farming and ranching communities in the southern part of the state, suffered huge losses and wildfires, exacerbated by the unusually dry conditions, destroyed 475,803 acres.

Courtesy photo – The Alpine Visitors Center on Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park May 29, 2019.

Current snow-water equivalent (SWE) percentages state-wide are 264 percent above the yearly average and 1,340 percent higher compared to the totals last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan river basins have accumulated 374 percent of their median snowpack. This incredible amount of snow, that seems to just keep coming, has enabled ski slopes, like those in Breckinridge, to remain open into June compared to previous years where they typically close around mid-April.

Even in Berthoud where conditions were abnormally dry last summer, in the month of May alone saw almost 2.5 inches of precipitation, far above the average .87 inches.

There are areas of the state that by the end of summer may have dry conditions, but this will take some time to achieve simply because of the enormous volume of snow in the mountains.

The last time the state was in this good of shape drought-wise was back in 2001 when .13 percent of the state was considered abnormally dry.  

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, since 2000 the longest duration of drought in Colorado lasted 395 weeks beginning on Oct. 30, 2001, and ending on May 19, 2009. The most intense period of drought occurred the week of July 16, 2002, where D4, a classification that means there is exceptional and widespread crop/pasture losses and shortages of water creating water emergencies, affected 34.37 percent of Colorado land.

At the end of April this year reservoir storage statewide was at 90 percent average but only 53 percent of capacity – this is expected to change as the snow begins to melt off throughout the summer months.

Forecasts from the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center indicate the weather this summer will be wetter and cooler than normal. The entire Intermountain West was unseasonably cool over the past week. According to the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS), temperatures were generally 6-to-12 degrees below normal.

Although areas like Berthoud and Larimer County have had their own battles with flooding, with a slower warm-up heading into summer the likelihood of flooding is less likely.

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