From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):
The U.S. Drought Monitor on Thursday released its weekly “drought map” that showed, for the first time since the service was created in 2000, Colorado was free from all listings of drought, after a winter of heavy snow and a spring filled with precipitation lifted the state out of the red.
The Drought Monitor’s outlook prompted media reports and chatter on social media that Colorado’s long drought was over. But that conclusion is inaccurate and doesn’t tell the whole story of Colorado’s drying out in the face of climate change, according to several weather and climate experts who spoke to The Durango Herald this week.
The Drought Monitor’s weekly outlook is a snapshot of current conditions and doesn’t take into account long-term trends, said Richard Heim, a meteorologist for NOAA’s National Center for Environmental Information, who created last week’s drought map…
“Drought is a very interesting phenomenon because it’s not the presence or occurrence of something, it’s the lack of something,” Heim said. “And it takes a while for drought to develop and for people to notice it.”
The Drought Monitor listed Southwest Colorado in a drought in fall 2017 and, with a practically non-existent winter, put the region in the most extreme level of drought conditions in spring 2018 in what turned out to be the second lowest water year in recorded history.
And there Southwest Colorado remained until this winter put on its best Jekyll and Hyde, resulting in the third largest snowpack since 1986 to hit the San Juan Mountains. As a result, the Drought Monitor started to reduce the severity of drought over the past few months.
But one year of epic snowfall does not end or reverse the long-term trend of drought in Southwest Colorado and other parts of the state, said Taryn Finnessey, a senior climate change specialist with the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
“Just because we have one good year … doesn’t negate the realities we’re seeing with consistent warming trends,” she said.
Colorado’s average temperature has risen 2 degrees in the last 30 years and is expected to increase another 2 to 4 degrees by 2050, driven by climate change and fossil fuel emissions. And higher temperatures can increase the intensity and duration of droughts.
Southwest Colorado and the Colorado River basin are particularly vulnerable to these changes. It led to the Colorado River Research Group to assign a new word to explain the region’s new normal.
Reagan Waskom, director of Colorado State University’s Colorado Water Institute, said the term “drought” no longer explains what is taking place in the Colorado River basin.
The research group’s study emphasized that the Colorado River basin isn’t in a normal drought cycle that is expected to end. Instead, the region’s arid climate is only expected to further dry out, and with rising global temperatures, there doesn’t seem to be any reversal to that pattern in sight…
“The public will forget about drought pretty quickly,” Waskom said. “But we live in a dry land, where it is getting hotter and drier, and we should continually be in front of our thinking how we manage our water resources.”
Indeed, Finnessey said drought has lasting impacts, and it takes a long time to recover forest health and agriculture.