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Colorado drought levels drop by half in a week; governor declares snowpack is “epic”

The U.S. Drought Monitor reported on Thursday that there is no more extreme or exceptional drought conditions in the state, which plagued the Four Corners region after the dry 2018 winter and summer

A skier makes his way through some March 2019 powder on Aspen Mountain. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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Widespread drought across Colorado has improved dramatically in recent weeks, buoyed by a string of strong snowstorms that pounded the entire state this month.

The U.S. Drought Monitor reported on Thursday that there are no more extreme or exceptional drought conditions in the state, which plagued the Four Corners region after the dry 2018 winter and summer. Three months ago, nearly 30 percent of Colorado was listed under that status.

As of Thursday’s report, only 46.13 percent of the state was listed in some kind of drought status. That’s down from 83 percent last week.


Use the slider below the see the Colorado drought level change over the past three months.

Gov. Jared Polis, in a Facebook live video with snow experts, called the state’s snowpack “epic.”

“A generally very active weather pattern since February .. has left excellent snowpack, with much of the north half and east returning to normal conditions,” the U.S. Drought Monitor reported. “Severe drought shrank significantly in the southern part of the state.”

The Natural Resources Conservation Service reports the state’s snowpack is 141 percent of normal and at 205 percent of last year’s level.

Colorado’s snowpack levels on Thursday. (Handout)

The latest numbers are excellent news for Colorado’s agricultural industry, which was bracing for a rough summer 2019 after a dry and hot 2018. Forecasters and drought experts were waiting for spring to see how much impact the snowfall would have on rivers and reservoirs.

Now that spring is here and runoff season fast approaching, things are looking good.

The boat dock in the community of Heeney sits on dry land due to low water levels at Green Mountain Reservoir on Sept. 9, 2018. The reservoir, which backstops Western Slope water supplies during drought years, was only 55 percent full. (John Ingold, The Colorado Sun)

Joel Gratz, a forecaster with OpenSnow, said in the video with Polis that an El Niño weather pattern was partly to thank for the abundance of snow, but said there was more at play.

“The reality is there’s so many things in weather that it’s not just one thing,” he said.

Gratz said the last time Colorado’s spring snowpack was anywhere near as solid was 11 years ago. But you have to go back to the 1996-97 season to really match this year’s levels.

“(It was) 22 years ago that the snowpack this late in the game was so deep,” he said.

A wall of snow towers above the bulldozer on south Red Mountain Pass. (Provided by the Colorado Department of Transportation)

Ski resorts across Colorado are extending their seasons as a result. Gratz said more snow is expected to fall in Colorado through March and into April.

“Because we have such a high snowpack this year we’re expecting a likelihood of a high runoff spring season,” said Nathan Fey, deputy director of the Colorado Office of Outdoor Recreation Industry office. “That’s going to do a lot of really good things not just for our economy, but for our river system as a whole.”

Fey said he’s hopeful that “we’re going to fill all those reservoirs this year.”

He said that the Dolores River, in southwest Colorado, may actually have consistently flowing water this year. The river typically runs dry because of municipal and agricultural demands.

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