Drought conditions likely to persist, forecasters say

RYAN MAYE HANDY Updated: January 24, 2013 at 12:00 am • Published: January 24, 2013

The latest drought statistics and a new three-month forecast for Colorado predict that the state is in for a warm and dry late winter and spring, which could prime the landscape for another severe wildfire season.

“These are just based on computer models, nothing is guaranteed,” said Mark Wankowski, a meterologist with the National Weather Service in Pueblo. “Right now it’s not looking the best.”

Colorado is one of 10 states in the midst of an exceptionally severe drought, and more than half of the state is in the second-worst level of drought, according to a weekly report released Thursday by the National Drought Mitigation Center.

Last January, during what was the start of an already dry year, only a fraction of a percent of the state was in “extreme drought,” the second-driest classification used by the center after “exceptional drought.” This January, however, 58.6 percent of Colorado is painted red for “extreme” on the U.S. Drought Monitor’s map.

El Paso County is among those now plunged into a dry-spell that could mean disaster come wildfire season — all of the county is in extreme drought except for the southeast corner, which is “exceptional,” according to the report. It’s been a common theme this winter, said Wankowski.

“We’ve been in this category for the past two months, three months,” he said.

The drought center recalculates categories every week, but little has happened weather-wise to change the status-quo.

The three-month prognosis, put together last week, is not good. Precipitation from February through April is expected to be lower than average, while temperatures should be higher than average, Wankowski said.

“There’s still hope if we can break this pattern,” he added. “The key to our water supply is March and April.”

But even the minimal dustings of snow to date — frustrating skiers, boarders, and wildfires specialists alike — are not the “worst case scenario,” Wankowski explained.

“If we don’t get the snow and precipitation in March and April, then we’ll see the worst case scenario,” he said.

States across the west are facing the same bleak prospects. Ranchers and farmers in Nevada were advised this week to prepare for another year of drought, The Associated Press reported. Last year, dry weather pushed the fall harvest into early October, weeks earlier than usual.

The record high temperatures and low precipitation for 2012 helped fuel one of the most devastating wildfire seasons on record, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. Last year, 67,000 wildfires consumed acreage and homes across the country.

Contact Ryan Maye Handy: 636-0261

Twitter @ryanmhandy

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