‘Exceptional’ drought persists on Western Slope despite heavy Front Range snow

By: - March 18, 2021 3:39 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)

Last weekend’s historic Front Range blizzard brought plenty of moisture to northeast Colorado, but persistent drought conditions in the western and southern portions of the state were virtually unchanged, new data from the U.S. Drought Monitor confirmed Thursday.

The Drought Monitor’s weekly update showed improved conditions on Colorado’s eastern plains following the storm, which dumped more than 2 feet of snow on some areas along the Front Range while bringing rain and sleet to the east. Large areas that had been classified as experiencing “severe” or “extreme” drought on the service’s intensity scale were downgraded, causing the percentage of the state under “extreme” conditions to fall from 56.6% to 38.6%.

More than 70% of Colorado was still suffering from severe drought as of March 16, 2021. (USDA/Drought Monitor)

But large areas of “exceptional” drought — the Drought Monitor’s most severe classification — persist on the Western Slope, which received virtually no relief from last weekend’s snowstorm. The “hot drought” that has afflicted the Colorado River Basin for more than 20 years is in large part attributable, scientists say, to warmer temperatures caused by climate change.

Even with the much-needed moisture, 95% of Colorado remains under an official drought classification, and 100% of the state has been considered at least “abnormally dry” on the Drought Monitor’s scale for a 33-week period dating back to August 2020.

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