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Drought conditions continue to improve in eastern Colorado, remain dire on Western Slope

One-third of Colorado – nearly all east of Continental Divide – now drought-free
Posted at 1:52 PM, May 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-12 16:56:01-04

DENVER – Drought conditions continue to improve in the eastern half of Colorado, as one-third of the state is drought-free as of this week. But little has changed on the drought-stricken Western Slope.

According to this week’s report from the U.S. Drought Monitor, 33.8% of Colorado is now drought free – up from 23.3% last week and 8% the week of May 4.

The continued improvement in drought conditions has been seen across the entire eastern half of the state and parts of south-central Colorado. While northeastern Colorado has been mostly drought-free since the beginning of May, southeastern Colorado moved from moderate-to-extreme drought in some areas to being drought-free or abnormally dry three-to-four weeks later.

Huerfano and Pueblo counties are drought-free as of this week, as is Alamosa County and most of Custer County. Only southern Las Animas County is still seeing moderate drought conditions in southeastern Colorado.

But as has been the case all spring, the moisture seen along the Front Range and Eastern Plains has not found its way onto the western side of the Continental Divide.

The extreme and exceptional drought levels are virtually unchanged from the beginning of the month on the entire western third of the state. Drought conditions have improved slightly in Mineral, Hinsdale and Saguache counties, but little can be said for the conditions on the rest of the western half of the state.

Snowpack levels from the Natural Resources Conservation Service tell part of that story. The snowpack in the South Platte basin, which is mostly east of the Continental Divide, sat at 137% of normal as of Thursday – a stark contrast to the other river basins in the state, which are all far below normal.

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Colorado snowpack levels as of May 27, 2021.

The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basin was only 38% of its normal snowpack, and the Upper Rio Grande basin was at only 46% of its normal snowpack for this time of year as of Thursday.

Similarly, the Yampa and White basin (52% of normal), Upper Colorado Headwaters basin (63% of normal), Gunnison basin (56% of normal), Arkansas basin (61% of normal) and Laramie and North Platte basin (67% of normal) are all well below average.

Denver has already received 9.78 inches of precipitation this year – 4.58 inches above normal for this point in the year and already more than the 8.74 inches it received in all of 2020. Grand Junction, meanwhile, has only gotten 2.04 inches of precipitation for the year so far – 1.6 inches below normal and just .02 inches more than it had received as of May 7.

Colorado wildfire prevention officials said in early April that the state should another year of intense wildfires because of the widespread drought and said the fires would likely start in southern Colorado and move up to the majority of the Western Slope by July.

Mesa County already had one brush fire this week that started at a property in Glad Park and quickly spread, forcing residents within two miles of the area to be evacuated on Tuesday morning before the fire was contained after burning one acre.

And while the eastern half of Colorado has seen improvement in its drought conditions, nearly all of the Southwest continues to see mostly extreme and exceptional drought, and the area including northeastern Montana and North Dakota has also seen its drought conditions exacerbated in recent weeks and months.