DENVER (AP) — Gov. Jared Polis has ordered a task force to assess initial damage and recommend mitigation measures for severe drought conditions affecting 40 of Colorado’s 64 counties, or roughly a third of the state.
Polis’ order follows dwindling mountain snowpack, a warmer-than-average spring, and far less precipitation than normal, Colorado Politics reported Wednesday. It also comes as the U.S. Drought Monitor reported this week that extreme drought expanded in northern New Mexico and eastern Colorado.
The order also activates a state agricultural task force to determine the drought’s potential crop and cattle damage impact and the possible economic fallout for the state’s $8 billion farming industry.
Abnormally dry conditions affect mountain and plains regions, and roughly 80% of the state’s landmass is in some form of drought.
Winter snowfall was low in most of Colorado, and May precipitation was less than half of normal, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Reservoir levels are dwindling in southern and southwestern Colorado, including the agricultural San Luis Valley and the Gunnison River Basin, the service said.
Becky Bolinger, a climatologist at Colorado State University’s Colorado Climate Center, said high winds, low humidity, high temperatures and lack of precipitation have produced a “flash drought” situation with higher than normal water evaporation in much of the state that particularly affects agriculture.
The summer promises higher temperatures and low rainfall and the summer monsoons that deliver rain from the southwest won’t make up for current conditions, Bolinger said.