By Alan Gionet

DENVER (CBS4) – Colorado’s latest snowstorm was bringing moisture to the mountains and the Front Range, but nearly 99% of the state is still in a drought. Much of it is considered “extreme” and even more serious “exceptional” drought.

(credit: CBS)

Violet Sage of Evergreen watched it come down and thought about the landscape she described as, “brown.”

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“What’s ’21 going to bring when the sun comes out?” she wondered.

Not a lot of hope, according to state climatologist Russ Schumacher from his office on the campus of Colorado State University.

“We’re going to need an extended period of cooler and wetter conditions to pull us out of that and it’s not what the outlooks are showing at this point,” he said.

Colorado is coming off a brutal fire season. More acreage was lost to wildfire in 2020 than in any other year in recorded history.
Schumacher noted that the West has been dry for most of the past 20 years, with drier years leading to catastrophic fires.

The East Troublesome Fire along Cottonwood Pass on Oct. 21. (credit: Andrew Lussie/Inciweb)

“In 2002 when we had a bad fire year and 2012 bad fire year and then 2018 and last year all being really exceptional dry years, bad fire years, impacts on agriculture and so forth.”

And in 2020, fires burned deep into Fall, 89 days after summer was over.

That’s not to say that droughts are anything new.

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“We live in a naturally dry place,” he said. “Droughts are a big part of Colorado’s history.”

But weather patterns have not helped.

“We’ve had three summers in a row with a failed monsoon in western Colorado and also very hot conditions,” he said.

But he does not think that is a permanent shift. Climate change, he believes, is having some role and variability.

“There is some research pointing to as the climate warms, the frequency of having those wet years, it’s actually in western Colorado that might go down.”

And that’s one of the areas of the driest conditions in Colorado right now.

(credit: CBS)

Snowpack, which is at 81% of average (84% of normal) is an asset to the mountains, the Front Range and even other states across the West as a water resource. Water restrictions could be coming if March and April snow does not add up and average temperatures rise.

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“As the temperatures continue to warm as those dry periods come around, it can hurt a lot more. Because a warmer atmosphere is thirstier for water and it puts more stress on vegetation, on forests and on water resources.”

Alan Gionet