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Winter snow, not summer rain, defines a drought

September 20, 2013 Updated: September 20, 2013 at 3:35 pm
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Although recent storms have dumped enough water on some areas of Colorado to set off major flooding, the state is still a long way from escaping lingering drought.

"There will be some improvement across the area, but we are still well below normal," said Mark Wankowski, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pueblo.

The wet fall, he added, is no indication that this winter will produce more snow than last year, he added.

"There is no correlation between a wet fall and wet winter," Wankowski said. "Forecast for the winter is that there is an equal chance of below, above or near-normal precipitation. Basically, it's up in the air."

Still, as of Tuesday much of Colorado was a lot damper, according to recorded rainfall amounts and the latest U.S. Drought Monitor.

Since Jan. 1, 17.66 inches of precipitation has been recorded in Colorado Springs, 3 inches above the normal precipitation level for that time period.

Last year at this time, Wankowski said, Colorado Springs had received 7.33 inches of precipitation.

That 10 inches of additional water this year "is definitely helping," ease drought, he said.

But its impact is short term.

On Thursday, the latest numbers available, the U.S. Drought Monitor map revealed that the severe drought area in Colorado is shrinking, thanks to the rain.

Three months ago, 17.54 percent of Colorado was categorized as in the most severe drought condition.

Thursday, the area deemed most serious had fallen to 1.4 percent.

A year ago, the entire state was considered in extreme drought, the next to highest level. By Thursday, only about 17 percent of the state remained in that category.

Most of the state is in the two lowest categories of drought, moderate and abnormally dry.

While the state isn't drought-free, the drought-free area grew from zero to almost 16 percent from three months ago.

Most of that drought-free area was in the north and north central part of the state, reaching down into the northwest corner and some of central El Paso County, including Colorado Springs, the map shows.

It's in the eastern plains that El Paso County continues to suffer the most.

"It tends to get drier as you get to the southeast part of El Paso County," said Kathy Torgerson, meterologist with the NWS in Pueblo.

The rain helped, "but measuring drought is a complicated thing," Torgerson said.

Reservoir levels are still "pretty low" because there is a lag between heavy precipitation and groundwater and reservoir storage.

Beating drought in El Paso County depends on mountain snowfall, she said. And what happens in the mountains this winter will be measured storm by storm.

"There's really no strong signal to drive it one way or the other," Torgerson said.

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