Wildfires don’t cause drought and vice versa, but drought conditions can exacerbate the impacts of a wildfire season. Low precipitation can lead to drier, weaker vegetation, and with the right weather system and low atmospheric humidity, fires can race across the landscape much easier than they would in a year with ample moisture. The multi-mile runs that the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome fires made in the past few months are rare in years with less intense drought.
But the drought monitor report isn’t the end-all document for how the state’s climate is doing. Peter Goble, a service climatologist with the Colorado Climate Center, cautioned against assuming too much from any one weekly report.
This is especially true for November. By fall, the most water-intensive operations of the year — namely, irrigating crops — are finished, and a dry winter won’t have the same detrimental impacts as summer drought. As a result, this month is a sort of “wait and see” season for Colorado, as Goble called it, as it’s still too early to tell what the winter will bring.
The analysis also doesn’t factor in seasonality, especially on regional scales, so future reports may show improvement compared to this week. But the general drought trend — and its long-term impacts, such as dry soils and vegetation — will likely continue until there’s significant precipitation.
Historically, “exceptional” drought — the worst category — is supposed to indicate drought conditions so severe that they occur no more frequently than once every 50 years. The last time a drought was this pervasive across the state was in the summer of 2013, but that was followed by record-breaking floods in September that devastated many communities, especially on the Front Range.
“Of course, that’s not really the way you want to come out of a drought either,” Goble said.
Weather predictions for the next few months in Colorado are not optimistic, to put it lightly — Colorado is forecast to continue its drought-heavy status — but Goble said it’s hard to see much further out than a year. And even forecasts for this winter might not hold true. The region is currently in a La Niña year, and in Colorado, that has tended to correlate with a drier-than-normal winter.
But with climate change making weather patterns more unpredictable, this year may not follow history’s footsteps. The short-term forecast calls for a storm rolling in Sunday through Monday that might bring rain or even snow to parts of the state.
The best thing Coloradans can do, Goble says, is “root for snow.”
Our articles are free to read, but not free to report
Support local journalism around the state.
Become a member of The Colorado Sun today!
The latest from The Sun
- $8,000 a week drawing COVID nurses from Colorado, other states to hard-hit areas
- Mask rules in jails vary from county to county as pandemic worsens in Colorado
- Denver’s current, former mayors say “dysfunctional” school board mistreated departing Superintendent Susana Cordova
- The “Long-Haulers:” These Coloradans got COVID in March — and their symptoms haven’t gone away
- Colorado researchers are gathering data on coronavirus survivors. Here’s what they’ve found.