Summer rains keep Colorado mostly drought-free

El Niño projected to bring above average autumn precipitation

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Spring and summer rains helped make up for a winter snowfall deficit in Colorado, where statewide precipitation was 98 percent of average 10 months into the 2015 water year. Graph courtesy NRCS.

Staff Report

FRISCO —Serious drought conditions persisted across the far West in July, but Colorado’s wet spring and summer helped boost the state’s water supplies and stream flow forecasts going into the late summer and fall. Only two small slices of the state have experienced abnormally dry conditions, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.The flow of moisture slowed slightly in late July and early August, but moderate summer temperatures slowed the loss of moisture from soils enough to prevent drought from taking hold, state water experts said during their Aug. 12 update.

In fact, water supplies continue to increase and statewide storage is the highest since 2000, with water providers reporting storage levels more than 90 percent of capacity, and demand was lower than this time last year, water trackers reported during the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s monthly drought update.

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The South Platte River Basin in Colorado has seen above average precipitation during all but three months of the 2015 water year.

The average statewide temperature for July was the coolest since 2004, and while conditions warmed up in August, western slope temperatures remained below average, according to the Colorado Climate Center.

In early August, rainfall remained above normal where the moisture is needed the most — across the southwestern corner of the state, where  weather stations in the San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan river basins tallied 118 percent of normal precipitation during the first 10 days of the month.

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Reservoir storage in Colorado is at its highest level in 15 years.

Reservoir Storage statewide was at 117 percent of average on August 1, with the highest levels in the Arkansas River Basin, at 153 percent of average.

The Upper Rio Grande has the lowest storage levels at 92 percent of average — the only basin with below average storage.

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An overview of month-by-month temperatures in Colorado’s climate regions.

After hovering between 1 and six degrees Fahrenheit above normal for much of the winter and spring, temps across Colorado dropped well below normal in May, rebounded in June and dropped again in July.

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July’s statewide temperature was below the long-term average for only the third time in the last 19 years and the coolest since 2004.

Cool temperatures in July helped preserve soil moisture and reduced demand for water across most of Colorado.

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Nearly all of Colorado saw below average temperatures in July 2015.

July 2015 precipitation was above average, and seasonal climate projections suggest that a strong El Niño could help bring plentiful moisture to the state in the late summer and autumn.

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After a string of dry years in the early 2000s, July 2015 statewide precipitation was above average for the seventh year in a row.
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NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center says there’s a good chance for above-average precipitation in Colorado the next three months.
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