May 2, 2013 9:17 PM by Bill Folsom
"Seems like every rains goes around us," It has been so dry in southeast Colorado Nelson Taylor's ranch in Lincoln County is in trouble. There was a bad drought in the 1950's, but he says the last two years are probably the worst he has seen.
It is the same at the Meinzer ranch in El Paso County. "We have gone from bad to worse," said Jean Meinzer.
At these ranches and many others grazing land that should be greening up, instead looks like a desert landscape. There were storms this past winter only it was not snow. "It was brown blizzard, brown blizzard! We had no snow," said Meinzer. So much blowing dust and dirt, ditches three and four feet deep are filled and once flat fields are rippled with dunes. The drought is devastating the land and the lives of these ranchers.
These dust storms in 2013 echo images of the 1930's when southeast Colorado was part of what became known as the dust bowl. At the time an estimated one hundred million acres of land had top soil blown away. People had to take cover as their property and possessions were covered.
Many farmers and ranchers of today have taken over their operations from parents and grandparents who witnessed the 1930's dustbowl. "Baca County was the heart of the dust bowl, but my parents talked about remembering their families putting wet towels down and trying to air out the house whenever you could and that's happening now. I've almost given up on cleaning house," said Meinzer. Asked if he is living in a dust bowl, Taylor said "Right here we are."
"This classification of southeast Colorado in the worst drought category is very much justified," said CU-Boulder Weather Researcher and NOAA Forecaster, Klaus Wolter. He has tracked many major droughts. He explains the issue perpetuates itself. As soil gets drier, it gets hotter, which then dries the soil even more. In the short term he sees some atmospheric indicators that may bring some moisture to the area, but to break the cycle long term he says you want to hear the term El Nino. "If you get a few El Nino events that could make it wet again." There are no current indications of an El Nino pattern forming anytime soon.
Reducing herds and supplementing with hay has been the battle plan to fight the drought. "Me and the kids had 400 cows and we're down to 100 cows now," said Taylor. Only the war has been going on so long many ranchers are running out of hay and the money to buy more. At the Meinzer ranch they are down to their last dozen large bails of hay. "That'll get us through May possibly and if we don't get any moisture by then the cattle are gone."
It is a drought now burying, blowing away, and drying up the farms and ranches of southeast Colorado. It is arguably another dust bowl and that impacts the plates on everyone's dining table.