Colorado drought worsens again after Western Slope’s driest September ever

By: - October 8, 2020 2:00 pm

Farmers and ranchers across Colorado are dealing with low precipitation levels and disappointing spring runoff, which have left much of the state under an official drought classification. (Mitch Tobin/The Water Desk)

Nearly 60% of Colorado is now experiencing drought conditions classified as “extreme” by the U.S. Drought Monitor, the service said in its latest update Thursday.

More than 90% of Colorado is classified as experiencing “severe” drought. (U.S. Drought Monitor)

Official drought designations have extended across 100% of Colorado since late July, and more than 90% of the state is now experiencing “severe” conditions or worse, according to the Drought Monitor’s intensity scale.

Colorado has grown steadily drier since a relatively wet summer in 2019, when the state recorded its first drought-free spell in six years. While snowpack levels were relatively healthy to begin the year, hot and dry conditions returned in the spring and have rarely let up since.

Conditions have grown particularly dire on the Western Slope, with drought in large swaths of the region now designated “exceptional,” the Monitor’s most intense category. The 5.24 inches of rain recorded on the Western Slope in September is the lowest total for that month since reliable record-keeping began in 1895, the Colorado Climate Center noted Thursday.

Driven in large part by higher temperatures caused by climate change, the dry spell that Colorado and much of the American Southwest have experienced since 2000 has been so severe and so persistent that scientists describe it as a “megadrought” or a permanent “aridification” of the region.

In addition to posing challenges for farmers, ranchers and municipal water suppliers, drought conditions increase the risk of large wildfires, and Colorado has experienced two of its three largest fires on record in recent months. Federal fire officials warned Thursday that Colorado’s wildfire season is far from over, with over half the state classified as an “above normal” risk for significant fires in October.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Chase Woodruff
Chase Woodruff

Reporter Chase Woodruff covers the environment, the economy and other stories for Colorado Newsline.