COLORADO — We are just two weeks away from the start of fall but the record breaking heat is making it feel more like the dog days of summer.
We went from our first snowfall on Pikes Peak at the end of August to scorching temperatures to start September. Many southern Colorado spots have had hotter than average temperatures so far this month.
But as we look at the latest drought monitor released Thursday, Colorado is in much better shape compared to drought conditions at the start of the summer.
A strong May snow storm kicked off a summer season full of more consistent rains. This solid monsoon season has been chipping away at extreme drought conditions the last 3 months.
“That storm put down an inch and a half of liquid. A foot and a half of snow in spots. It was kind of the start of a relatively persistent monsoon across the area. And we did see the drought really improve across all areas, rivers beginning to come up. Some indication that we’re seeing better moisture content into our reservoirs,” said Greg Heavener, Warning Coordination Meteorologist with NWS Pueblo.
Currently about 16% of Colorado is drought free as of September 8th. Compare that to the start of June when only around 1% of the state was completely drought free.
“A lot of moisture we got earlier in the spring and summer, it took a while for it to actually really affect the soil itself, too. The intensity of the rain can really actually help to compact your soil even more so and have that water runoff more quickly, more efficiently than it would normally,” said Heavener.
Some spots saw record summer rains with Colorado Springs tying for the 5th wettest July on record.
But it’s the consistent soaking rains, rather than intense bursts of heavy rain, that make the biggest improvement to replenishing soils and improving drought.
“Between storms in two days you get hot again and you see that moisture evaporate or get blown away from strong wind. And then you get into a windy season, September, October, that could easily exacerbate issues with the drought seeing intensify across areas that had received a lot of moisture over the summer months,” said Heavener.
One area that did not see major drought improvement is the northeast plains where around .6% of Colorado is under exceptional and extreme drought categories.
Long-term outlooks are calling for a warmer and drier fall season across Colorado and a slower start to the winter season.
“Basically put into repeat the last 2 fall seasons across southern Colorado with that warm, dry conditions. Not a lot of snowfall is expected outside of the higher peaks and terrain,” said Heavener.
For a rare third year in a row, a La Niña weather pattern is expected to last through fall and even into early winter. But there are signs the pattern breaks down past Christmas, which could bring a cooler, wetter pattern for the end of winter.
La Niña is a climate pattern where winds that blow from east to west become stronger than normal, pushing warmer water towards Asia but upwelling colder water on the coast of the western United States. The colder waters in the Pacific end up affecting the atmosphere, pushing the jet stream further north.
Typically, we see a wetter and colder pattern across the Pacific Northwest with warmer and drier weather across the southern half of the United States. In the plains, we tend to stay warm and dry from dry chinook winds off the mountains and dry, gusty cold fronts out of the north.