Thursday’s report from the United States Drought Monitor shows the month of December has not been kind to most of Colorado.
Drought conditions statewide have jumped to 68% of the state, with potential impacts on dryland and winter farming and ski areas.
But it’s better than a year ago, when 84% of the state was in drought and more than half of the state in severe drought. It wasn’t until March when snowpack and precipitation started to improve Colorado’s water conditions, and those conditions continued to improve until the state came out of drought for the first time in 20 years.
Colorado stayed drought-free for eight weeks, from May through July. In a two-week period — from March 12-26 — Colorado went from 83% in drought to 25% in drought.
The Dec. 26 drought map reports that 20% of the state is in severe drought, stretching from southern Rio Blanco County in northwestern Colorado along the western border of the state to the New Mexico state line.
The low snowpack affects counties such as San Miguel, home to Telluride, one of the state’s most popular ski resorts. The resort reported a 33-inch base and an inch of new snow in the last 24 hours. That’s about 8 inches less than Aspen/Snowmass and 7 inches less than Vail.
The Drought Monitor report on Thursday notes that severe drought conditions could lead to stunted rangeland growth; impacts on dryland crops, which includes winter wheat; a longer wildfire season; lower river flows; and a limited ski season.
But it isn’t only southwestern Colorado that’s in drought. Moderate drought is covering southern and southeastern Colorado. Abnormally dry conditions — the lowest level of drought — encompass all of El Paso County and run east to the Colorado-Kansas state line.
The 31.72% of the state that isn’t in drought includes Summit County, most of Eagle County, the Front Range from the Wyoming state line to Park County, and northeastern Colorado.
The Drought Monitor is a jointly operated service of the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Drought conditions in the Four Corners region (Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, which all rely on the Colorado River) are the worst in the nation, according to Thursday’s report.