Eastern Colorado drought free, Western Slope stuck in extreme dry spell


COLORADO SPRINGSColorado’s Front Range and the eastern half of the state are drought free going into summer after a rainy spring season.

The month of May brought steady and beneficial moisture to eastern parts of the state. Colorado Springs and Pueblo got a good drink of water to start 2021. Rain totals are double the average amount for this time of year, topping out at 7″ for both the Springs and Pueblo by the end of May.

The wet pattern and good precipitation through the spring season has made a big dent in drought conditions from just two months ago.

“You get all that moisture squeezed out over one side of the divide and then once you move over to the other side of the divide you don’t get that benefit,” said Becky Bolinger, Ph.D, Assistant State Climatologist with the Colorado Climate Center.

While eastern Colorado revels in recent rain, the Western Slope is stuck in extreme drought. It’s a stark contrast across Colorado.

The Western Slope has missed out on most of the recent moisture which has led to little to no change over the last few months. Around 40% of that part of the state is under the highest level on the Drought Monitor, Exceptional drought.

To date, Grand Junction has received only 2.0″ of precipitation since January 1st. That’s more than an inch shy of normals. Durango is also running nearly 2.0″ below average precipitation this year.

“We didn’t get much in the spring to make up the deficits from last summer. And we didn’t peak at a normal snowpack and now we’re going into a warm, dry summer. All of things are going to be very concerning for the west side of the state. We’ve probably recharged the soils a little bit with some of that snow but the rivers are going to be running lower. Not as much is going to go into the reservoirs,” said Bolinger.

Water releases into the Yampa River are “critically low”, running at only 20% of average. That’s why Colorado Parks and Wildlife is closing a half mile stretch between the dam and Stagecoach State Park, indefinitely, while the dry spell drags on. CPW says it’s to prevent overfishing during the ongoing drought.

“We already know June is the driest month of the year for most of western Colorado so there’s really hope of relief on the horizon. We’re going to have a higher risk for large wildfires,” said Bolinger.

The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control is calling for an active wildfire season due to the drought stretching into summer.

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