March was a game-changer, says state climatologist Nolan Doesken
Without the above-average February snowfall in eastern Colorado, Colorado would be experiencing record dry conditions statewide. GRAPHIC COURTESY WESTERN REGIONAL CLIMATE CENTER.
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Colorado’s water managers and weather experts shouldn’t be surprised by the dry skies and warm temperatures. Historically, the majority of past disaster declarations in the state have been related to drought, which indicates the state’s vulnerability to this particular natural hazard, according to boilerplate language found in hazard mitigation plans in almost every county.
Summit County’s multihazard mitigation plan, for example, says clearly that multi-year droughts can be expected about every 10 years, so this season’s dry conditions are right on schedule after the last major dry spell culminated in 2002. Since 1893, Colorado has experienced six multi-year droughts that are widely considered “severe.” These droughts affected most of the state and involved record-breaking dry spells.
While this year’s early snow melt is not unprecedented, it is unusual, according to state climatologist Nolan Doesken, who said the last time the state saw similar conditions was more than 100 years ago, in the 1910 drought, which was widespread across the West and also led to one of the most destructive wildfire seasons on record. In that year, conditions did turn around a bit in late April and May, he added.
“March was the real game-changer,” Doesken said, explaining that the state’s snowpack usually grows and peaks during the last few weeks of winter; this year, it was the opposite, with a meltdown that saw statewide snowpack dwindle by nearly a third. Continue reading
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