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Eastern Colorado almost entirely drought-free, while exceptional drought persists on Western Slope

Posted at 4:08 PM, Jun 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-12 16:55:53-04

DENVER – Colorado’s drought situation continues to be a tale of two halves of the state, with the eastern half nearly entirely drought-free as of this week and the western half under moderate-to-exceptional drought conditions.

Fifty-one percent of Colorado was drought-free as of this week’s update from the U.S. Drought Monitor – up from 33.8% last week after another round of rain and storms on the eastern side of the Continental Divide and a little in the central and northern mountains.

The only part of the eastern half of Colorado that was not drought-free as of this week was southern Las Animas County, which was abnormally dry – the least-severe drought category.

The stark turnaround in eastern Colorado has been bolstered by a wet spring. The Denver area has seen rain the past three weekends, sometimes for several days, and areas of northeastern Colorado have seen near-record-breaking precipitation.

Denver is already up to 10.49 inches of precipitation so far this year – 4.77 inches above normal and already nearly 2 inches above what the city got in all of 2020. Grand Junction, meanwhile, has still only received 2.04 inches of precipitation all year, which is 1.74 inches below normal. After 0.4 inches of precipitation fell on May 3, Grand Junction saw only 0.02 inches for the rest of the month of May, according to the National Weather Service.

As such, the drought conditions have remained relatively unchanged on the Western Slope all month. Sixteen percent of Colorado – all in the western third of the state – is experiencing exceptional drought, the most severe on the drought scale. In total, 43% of the state is experiencing moderate drought or worse conditions.

Eastern Colorado is a drought outlier when compared to the rest of the West and Southwest. In New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana, just 4% of the land is drought-free, and more than half is experiencing extreme or exceptional drought conditions.

In Utah, that expands to 90% of the state. Extreme or exceptional drought conditions are also persistent in more than 86% of Arizona’s land mass.

Lake Mead, which is fed by the Colorado River, was only 37% full this week and fell below 1,075 feet, triggering water cutbacks in Arizona, Nevada and Mexico.

As has been the case for the last two months, Colorado’s snowpack levels also show the divide between the eastern and western half of the state.

co_swepctnormal_update (2).png
This map from the USDA NRCS shows snowpack levels as of June 3, 2021, in Colorado.

The South Platte basin is now up to 162% of its normal snowpack for this time of year – up from 137% a week ago. The Arkansas River basin snowpack also improved to 70% of normal from 61% last week.

But it continues to be bad news for the snowpack in the rest of the state, which fell week-over-week in every other river basin.

The Laramie and North Platte basin is now 50% of normal; the Yampa and White basin is at 44% of normal; the Upper Colorado Headwaters basin is at 54% of normal; the Gunnison basin is at 33% of normal; The San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basin is at 37% of normal; and the Upper Rio Grande basin’s snowpack fell to 21% of normal from 46% last week.