Part of state faces threat of drought again
DENVER – Golfers with sleeves rolled up. Bears leaving hibernation. Wildfires whipped by wind. Spring cannot be far away.But wait, winter has just begun.
Despite heavy snow in Colorado’s northern and central mountains, much of the rest of the state, especially the south, is parched. Record or near-record temperatures were reported in northeastern Colorado on Friday, reaching nearly into the 70s.The Wolf Creek Ski Area, which usually leads the state with an average snowfall of 435 inches, had gotten only 82 inches by Friday. Last year it had a 106-inch base on this date. Cortez reported 0.06 inches of precipitation in December – 7 percent of average. Both had banner years in 2004-2005, as heavy snows filled reservoirs and put them in good shape to get through the current year.Durango Mountain Resort opened late because of a lack of snow, but made snow a month longer than planned, resulting in a nearly normal number of skiers during the holidays, said Matt Skinner, spokesman for the resort.
State climatologist Roger Pielke said it is a classic La Nina pattern, though he said too much of the current balmy weather – upper 60s in Denver – shouldn’t be attributed to cooling in the eastern Pacific. He said the south is facing conditions comparable to the drought of 2002. The snowpack in the Rio Grande Basin was 35 percent of the 30-year average, the San Miguel-Dolores-Animas and San Juan only 50 percent.The statewide average, driven by snows in the north, was 107 percent of average.”El Nino appears to have been replaced by a weak La Nina as a factor … A first forecast into the following spring season should be taken with a grain of salt, but may reintroduce drought conditions for southeast Colorado and northwestern Utah,” said weather scientist Klaus Wolter of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in a forecast preview. He said that if La Nina gains strength the prospect of a dry spring would spread to surrounding states.
“The south (of Colorado) is hurting badly already,” said Pielke. He said the south should be preparing for drought. “It is like a bank account. We are not accumulating the water we need in the south.”Small wildfires broke out this week in Boulder and Cortez. Several bears wandered through Aspen, though wildlife agents said they had probably had been disturbed in their dens.Snowfall has been below average along the urban Front Range even while it was snowing in the mountains. Denver got only 0.35 inches, about half the normal, in December. In November 0.48, also about half. Because they get most of their water from the mountains there is no threat – yet.