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Colorado’s drought situation continues to improve, with just 11% of the state under dry conditions

Snowpack still is at 155% of average and the slow melt is allowing more water to be captured in reservoirs drawn nearly dry last year

Rocky Mountain National Park snowplows were working to clear an inundated Trail Ridge Road. (Handout)
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The news just keeps getting better.

As the snowpack runoff season begins, Colorado’s drought situation has dramatically improved again. In the past three months, the areas on the drought map marked abnormally dry or worse have shrunk by 88%.

On Feb. 12, 92% of the state was under some kind of drought status, including the most severe “exceptional drought” rating. On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported that just 11% of Colorado is abnormally dry, but that no area is under a “drought” listing.

A slider map showing the dramatic improvements in Colorado’s drought status over the past three months. Darker shades represent areas in more significant levels of drought. White areas are drought-free. Taken from U.S Drought Monitor maps from Feb. 12, 2019 and May 16, 2019. (Graphic by Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

“We did see a lot of snow and a lot of more-robust storms that occurred during the March-April-May timeframe,” said Cari Bowen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Boulder. “That has helped the drought quite significantly.”

But she cautioned that things could change if there are a few weeks of dry weather.

“It’s all kind of pattern based,” she said. “Drought is not always something that’s fixed in the short term. It’s a long-term thing.”

That being said, early signs are pointing to some big improvements.

Reservoir storage levels in much of the state, which were giving farmers heartburn last summer, are looking solid. Only reservoirs in the southwest corner of Colorado remain far below their average levels, holding just a sliver of their capacity.

Statewide, reservoirs are at 90% of their average fill level and holding 53% of their capacity. Compared to last year’s average, reservoirs at are 111%.

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Bowen said the late storms and relatively cool temperatures in the high country have helped keep the runoff season from ramping up too quickly to be captured.

“That definitely does push back that melting a little bit,” she said.

As of Wednesday, snowpack statewide was 155% of normal.

And another cool, wet pattern of weather is heading to the state over the next few days. “It’s going to help a lot with that snowmelt,” Bowen said.

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