From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Once again, Southern Colorado has drawn the short end of the cloud. The latest state drought assessment shows that a wet, cool summer is alleviating drought conditions in much of Colorado, but the southern third of the state is still in some sort of drought condition. Parts of Crowley, Otero, Bent and Kiowa counties remain in the worst shape with extreme drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, an assessment compiled by the nation’s top scientists. For other parts of the region, it is the first time in more than two years that no areas of exceptional drought — the highest stage — have been reported.
“The drought is well into its fourth year, but recent rains have brought relief,” according to a report co-authored by Taryn Finnessey of the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Tracy Kosloff of the Division of Water Resources. “It will likely take years for rangelands and producers to recover.”
In all, about 40 percent of the state remains in some sort of drought condition, which is much better than a year ago, when nearly all of the state was affected.
The good news is that much of the state is bouncing back to normal following rains that have been sufficient to douse fire danger while not causing the widespread flooding seen in 2013.
That’s not to say it’s been nothing but peaceful, gentle sprinkles. In the town of Eads, located north of Lamar, 7 inches of rain fell in just a few hours ending the dust in torrents of mud.
Statewide, Snotel weather stations are showing precipitation is 103 percent of average, while reservoir storage is at 97 percent of average. Storage and streamflow conditions remain worst in the Rio Grande basin.
July rainfall was plentiful along the Front Range, with many areas — El Paso, Huerfano and western Otero counties among them — receiving two-three times average amounts.
Temperatures during the first two weeks of August have been 3-4 degrees cooler than normal, helping to alleviate drought conditions, the report noted.
Meanwhile many eyes are watching the development of El Niño. Here’s a report from 9News (Maya Rodriguez):
Earlier this year, scientists predicted “El Nino” would be strong this year. That didn’t happen right away, but it’s picking up steam again…
For a state that’s grappled this year with heavy snow in the mountains and a severe drought in the plains, it sometimes seemed like Colorado’s weather had a split personality. With an El Nino now predicted to strengthen in the Pacific, Colorado’s winter could look different, depending on your elevation.
“When I think of El Nino, it’s giving us a little bit to hang our hats on in the very challenging world of trying to make seasonal climate predictions,” said Nolan Doesken, state climatologist for Colorado and part of the Colorado Climate Center at CSU.
Doesken said El Ninos don’t create a certainty for what the weather might bring in the future, but historically, they do show patterns.
“El Nino tips the odds a little bit towards certain factors dominating more often than ‘usual,'” he said.
One example: snowfall…
“The stronger the El Nino, the more likely we are to have some big fall and winter storms at lower elevations,” Doesken said.
Yet, the opposite can be true in the northern and central mountains, where a strong El Nino historically means less snow there…
“Winter recreationists and springtime whitewater rafters all love to watch accumulation of snow in mid-winter, but El Nino does not necessarily bode well for winter accumulations,” Doesken said, speaking about areas in the northern and central mountains.
Climatologists say there are many factors that could determine how much snow we see this winter. Still, El Nino is something they keep an eye on.
From the Albuquerque Journal (John Fleck):
If “drought” is the villain, is “El Niño” – the climate pattern that brings our winter snows – the hero?
And if the answer is “yes,” has our hero abandoned us? What had been looking over the late spring and early summer like it could be gangbuster of an El Niño looks like it’s fizzling, slashing the odds of a wet winter to bail us out of this drought.
But maybe things aren’t as bad as all that. After a couple of recent trips up and down the Rio Grande this month, it was easy to shrug and ask, what drought?
Driving down I-25 the first weekend in August, I crossed the Rio Salado in northern Socorro County in its full flash-flood mode. Jumping off the freeway at the next exit, I drove out to see the Rio Grande roaring through the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District’s San Acacia Diversion Dam. It was big and muddy and roiling with that unmistakable smell of a desert flash flood and, according to the U.S. Geologic Survey’s gauge just downstream of the dam, the most water at San Acacia in nearly a year.
Then last week, I drove through rain and saw many of the usually dry little arroyos between here and Las Cruces flashing with muddy thunderstorm remnants. The landscape the whole way was a lovely shade of green.
But when I pulled off in Truth or Consequences, and headed through town and up to Elephant Butte Dam, I looked down into a great big empty. Fifteen years of mostly lousy snowpacks in the upstream watersheds that feed the Rio Grande, combined with continued downstream water needs, have left Elephant Butte Reservoir in a hole that will take far more than a couple of wet months to dig out of.
The following day, I got off the freeway and drove the old road toward Las Cruces past irrigation ditches already dry and a bunch of farm fields left fallow because of the irrigation shortfalls. It was a reminder that drought is not one thing and fixing our water shortfalls takes more than a month or two of good rain.