Drought lingers in southeast Colorado
May 24, 2011
DENVER – Snowpack levels have reached 247 percent of average in Colorado’s mountains, raising the threat of flooding around the state as the arriving warm weather brings the spring runoff. But recent storms have largely bypassed the state’s southeastern corner, leaving residents praying for rain.
The National Weather Service said Monday there is a chance for thunderstorms in Springfield, but the new rainfall isn’t expected to amount to more than a tenth of an inch.
The Colorado Division of Emergency Management defines drought as a supply and demand problem – it happens when there isn’t moisture to meet an area’s water consumption needs.
Mark Svoboda, a climatologist with the National Drought Mitigation Center, said about 30 percent of Colorado has been classified as experiencing severe drought conditions. Seven percent of Colorado has been experiencing extreme drought conditions: Baca, eastern Las Animas, most of Bent and Prowers, parts of Otero, Crowley and Kiowa counties.
“An extreme drought means these conditions happen about once every 20 years. One way to equate it is if I had 100 years of data, in 95 of those 100 years (we) are better off than we are now,” Svoboda said.
Several indices are used to classify droughts, including precipitation, stream flow and vegetation health, he said. The current drought conditions aren’t indicative of the state’s water supply, especially in light of the record snowpack measurements along the Rocky Mountains, but they do spell problems for farmers and ranchers who use the pasture lands down south, Svoboda said.
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Colorado Independent Cattlegrowers Association President Kimmi Lewis said she’s been feeding her cattle every other day because the pastures are so dry and are starting to run out of grass.
“We just desperately need rain. We pray for rain every day,” she said.
Bruce Fickenscher, a range and livestock agent for the southeast area, said rain gauges scattered around counties indicate there has been less than 2 inches of rain in the area since October. The little bit of green growth they saw has since died and withered away.
“Range conditions for pastures are way past serious. Livestock has started to leave because there are no range grasses to speak of. And hay is becoming very hard to find,” Fickenscher said.
A recent string of storms flooded parts of Colorado and dumped up to 6 inches of fresh snow in the mountains last week. Minor flood watches were issued for parts of Colorado west of the Continental Divide and most of the eastern plains.
“This is not uncommon. Floods are generally just contained in the floodplains but droughts can cover a larger footprint,” Svoboda said.
State climatologist Nolan Doesken said there’s a rough dividing line between the northern and southern plains along Interstate 70. That line has been especially sharp this year, with the southern plains seeing hotter temperatures and a rapid spring drying while a minor flood watch was in effect Monday for most of the northern plains, he said.
“They have seen extreme drought before and they will see extreme drought again. It’s not unprecedented and it is extreme,” Doesken said.
The fire danger is also high. There’s a lot of concern for fire potential when there are short, intense droughts that dry out grasses and brush, Svoboda said.
“I would say fire is another concern moving forward because temperatures will start to ramp up,” he said.