May was a drought-buster for eastern Colorado

Wet summer ahead?

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May precipitation broke the all-time record for Colorado.
Every part of Colorado saw above normal precipitation in Many.
Every part of Colorado saw above normal precipitation in May.

Staff Report

FRISCO — May brought drought-busting precipitation to much of Colorado, state climate experts said last week during their monthly Water Availability Task Force meeting in Denver.

The beneficial moisture erased a long-running drought in southeastern Colorado and also helped boost the streamflow outlook in the Rio Grande Basin, where a meager winter snowpack had lowered expectations for summer runoff.

By contrast, the far western third of the state is still designated as experiencing abnormally dry conditions by the National Drought Monitor, which also shows a pocket of moderate drought across western Gunnison and much of Delta counties.

The far northwestern corner of Colorado also saw well above-average precipitation, but longer-term dryness in that part of the state kept  wildfire concerns in the forecast for late June.

Statewide, May 2015 was the wettest May on record since record-keeping started in 1895, surpassing 1995 and 1957. According to the National Weather Service, 31 weather stations reported May as the wettest month ever.

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Precipitation for the water year to date (Starting Oct. 1, 2014) is well above average in eastern Colorado but quite a bit drier to the west.

And even though the statewide snowpack never quite reached the average peak, precipitation at the mountain SNOTEL sites is 97 percent of normal for the water year (starting Oct. 1, 2014), an 11 percent improvement from a month ago.

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Healthy streamflows projected across much of the Colorado River Basin.

In the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins June precipitation to-date is 350 percent of normal, and has already exceeded average total June precipitation. Since early May, the southwest corner of the state has seen about 10 inches of precipitation, wiping out the deficit of a multi-year drought.

Reservoir Storage statewide was at 107 percent of average as of May 1, and storage in the Colorado River Basin is at its highest levels in 15 years. The lowest storage levels are in the Upper Rio Grande and the basins of Southwestern Colorado, at 66 percent and 89 percent of average, respectively.

Climate experts say El Niño has continued to gain strength over the last few months and is poised to become a strong event, if not a “Super El Niño.” The last “Super El Niño” was in 1997 when Colorado experienced above average precipitation.

But NOAA climate experts cautioned against making predictions too early. Here’s an excerpt from a recent El Niño blog: “It’s important to remember, though, that we only have a handful of strong El Niño events in the historical record—seven since 1950. And only three of those saw Niño3.4 index values of 2.0°C or higher: 1972-73, 1997-98 and 1982-83)*. Imagine if we’d only had seven hurricanes in the history of record-keeping; it would make it much harder to understand and predict how a future hurricane could develop. So, while we’re confident that this El Niño event will continue, there’s still plenty of uncertainty about how it will evolve.”

Monthly temperature from 1982-April 2015 compared to the 1901-2000 average, with El Niño-flavored months in red, La Niña-flavored months in blue, and neutral months in gray. Graphic by Deke Arndt and Climate.gov, based on global surface temperature data from the National Centers for Environmental Information and monthly OISST sea surface temperature anomalies in the Niño3.4 region of the tropical Pacific provided by the Climate Prediction Center.
Monthly temperature from 1982-April 2015 compared to the 1901-2000 average, with El Niño-flavored months in red, La Niña-flavored months in blue, and neutral months in gray. Graphic by Deke Arndt and Climate.gov, based on global surface temperature data from the National Centers for Environmental Information and monthly OISST sea surface temperature anomalies in the Niño3.4 region of the tropical Pacific.

All long term forecasting tools indicate normal to above normal precipitation in the coming months, with some indication that the monsoon season may come early.

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Statewide snowpack never reached it’s average peak, but started melting out at about the average time thanks to a cool and wet spring.

The El Niño/seasonal outlook from NOAA’s Klaus Wolter.

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Super El Niño?

And according to the Climate Prediction Center, Colorado is in the center of an area favored with changes for above average precipitation the next three months.

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A wet three-month outlook for Colorado.
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