Much of Southwest Colorado remains in a severe drought even though the region has accumulated 130% of average snowpack.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, as of Dec. 31, all of Montezuma County and all but the northern edge of La Plata County and the eastern edge of Archuleta County remain listed in severe drought. Virtually all of Dolores, Montrose and Ouray counties also were designated in a severe drought.
As of Jan. 2, the severe drought designation remained despite an above-average snowpack for Southwest Colorado.
A SNOTEL map on Jan. 2 showed 130% of the 30-year average snowpack for the San Juan, Animas, Dolores and San Miguel river basins as of Jan. 1.
The region remains in the drought category because the drought monitor tracks precipitation over many previous months, said Ken Curtis, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District, which manages McPhee Reservoir.
July through October was very dry, with below-average moisture. It will take continued average to above-average moisture to knock the area out of drought, he said.
“The good precipitation in the mountains does not erase the lack of monsoons,” Curtis said. “The good news is that from a runoff perspective, we are ahead of schedule. As long as we stay in the storm track, I expect the drought to fade in three to four months.”
A large part of Colorado’s Western Slope remains in severe or moderate drought.
In fact, only the northeast section of the state, including the Denver metro area and the northern mountains around Steamboat Springs, are not under some kind of drought listing.
In all, nearly 70% of Colorado is abnormally dry or in moderate or severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. A year ago, roughly 85% of the state had some kind of drought status, including 11% that was listed as being in exceptional drought.
Despite the continued dry conditions, forecasters said things are better than they were last year at this time when exceptional and extreme drought – the worst categories – had set in. Over the last three months, parts of southern Arizona and New Mexico recovered, but portions of Utah and Colorado dried out.
However, if the season so far is any indication, Southwest Colorado is headed out of its drought.
Cortez weather watcher Jim Andrus said the New Year’s Day storm brought 0.8 inch of snow to Cortez.
For the winter season through Dec. 31, Andrus measured 15.1 inches of snow compared with an average of 11.5 inches through the end of December, 131% of normal for Cortez.
A combination of rain and snow brought December’s precipitation in Cortez to 1.73 inches, 197% of the 0.88 December average for Cortez. Total snowfall for Cortez in December came in at only 7.7 inches, 93% of 8.3 inches normal for the month, but rain boosted Cortez’s total precipitation to well above normal, Andrus said.
“We certainly had a good month in December,” he said.
Andrus added that he, too, was not surprised the U.S. Drought Monitor has not removed the severe drought status for Southwest Colorado.
“It takes a consistent amount of good precipitation over time to take out that drought rating, and they don’t just look at weather conditions. They look at things like soil conditions, too,” he said.
Tom Renwick, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said up to 8 inches fell on favored peaks in the San Juan Mountains.
After this storm, Renwick said a drying trend is expected in Southwest Colorado, with the weather service not forecasting a potential of snow in the region through Jan. 10.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.