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Colorado at drought crossroads

March 6, 2009

Federal and academic scientists across the country this week agreed that Colorado's Front Range is in moderate drought, which means the next three months are pivotal going into the summer, said Nolan Doesken, Colorado State University state climatologist.


Doesken is a contributor to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which this week listed the Front Range as the area of Colorado suffering most, along with extreme southeastern Colorado, from lack of adequate precipitation. The drought monitor, through the National Drought Mitigation Center based at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is a synthesis of multiple indices and impacts that represent a consensus of some 200 federal and academic scientists.

Most critical time of year

"We're at the beginning of the most critical time of year (spring) where the water that falls from the sky has a greater effect on the state water supply than any other time of year," Doesken said. "We're at that point where it could go either way."

The picture is brighter in the mountains. Winter snowpack continues to be close to average statewide with the help of some big storms in December. The Plains also benefited from soaking rains in October that came just in time for winter wheat and rangeland grasses, he said.

Above average temperatures, little precipitation

Temperatures across the state in February stood at 4 degrees above average with very little precipitation, which is not unusual, particularly along the Front Range and on the Plains, Doesken said. But March and April need to be wet to get the state safely into the hot summer months ahead.

The Front Range is already suffering, receiving less than two inches of water over the past five months. That's half the precipitation the area typically receives, said Doesken (pictured at right), who relies on a series of volunteers around the state to report precipitation totals through CSU's Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network.

Below-average precipitation forecast

The best federal government forecasts call for above-average temperatures and below-average precipitation from March through May, he said.

"It's not a good forecast for us - not for this time of year," Doesken said. "In winter, you don't expect much moisture east of the mountains. But spring is a different story. If we miss out on our normal wet snows and cool, spring rains, the picture can get ugly in a hurry.

"Now comes showtime."

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Contact: Emily Wilmsen
E-mail: Emily.Wilmsen@colostate.edu
Phone: (970) 491-2336