WeatherWeather Science


Colorado sees some drought improvement from the recent snowstorm

drought monitor update 3.16.2021
Posted at 2:29 PM, Mar 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-19 18:45:52-04

The much-anticipated drought monitor update this week shows improvement by one or two categories in the hardest-hit areas from the March 13-14 blizzard and snowstorm.

drought monitor update 3.16.2021
Drought monitor update released March 17, 2021, valid through March 16, 2021

Compare the latest map above with last week's drought monitor below.

Drought monitor from March 9, 2021

Denver decreased from severe to moderate levels. There are great improvements in Larimer county, from severe to abnormally dry levels. All it took was over two feet of snow... which isn't a common occurrence. And the elephant in the room, Teller and El Paso County did not see a category reduction. A likely explanation for counties that stayed in the same category is that they dropped from the higher end of a category to the lower end of that same category, more like a spectrum.

Speaking with Tony Anderson, the service hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Pueblo, he says this drought started in August of 2019 and Colorado Springs is at a water deficit of about 8 inches, and Pueblo about 6 inches. This past weekend's storm brought 0.59" liquid-equivalent precipitation to Colorado Springs. It takes many consistent precipitation events to recover that kind of deficit.

On a positive note, the 1"-1.5" of rain that fell in the eastern plains will help the soil moisture for the beginning of the growing season this year.

Anderson also says this winter has been "the little engine that could." At least, for the Arkansas river basin, this winter has been steady and near normal. See the chart below of the Arkansas River snowpack this water year so far.

A steady and normal snowpack can keep drought conditions steady or we can see a slight improvement. And that has been the case for this winter. Now, spring is upon us and the snowpack will melt and go into our rivers and reservoirs. This is where we will see a turn for the better or worse.

Anderson noted that the snowpack started at normal levels in 2020, but a warm and windy start to spring made much of the snowpack evaporate. Only some of our precious snow was able to melt and flow into Colorado's river basins, while the rest floated away in the clouds.

This was the unlucky start to what would be a very dry and hot spring and summer in 2020. On top of that, the late summer monsoon pattern never came to fruition and we saw little rain in the state. This allowed a terrible fire season to flourish late into the fall. Colorado experienced the top three largest wildfires in history last year.

In conclusion, a couple of good storms in the late winter and a normal snowpack is a great start. In addition, mild spring temperatures and summer thunderstorms are necessary to reduce and perhaps eliminate drought this year.