It’s been a noticeably wet and snowy start to the year in Denver. In fact, it’s been the wettest start to a year since the early 1940s.
The Mile High City has seen close to 8 inches of precipitation this year already thanks to the big March blizzard bringing us the equivalent amount of moisture as a monsoon thunderstorm as well as multiple over-performing weather events after that.
Annually, Denver picks up just over 14 inches of precipitation, leaving us well ahead of schedule as we head into the hot, summer months.
For those of you planning trips outside of the Denver area this summer, remember that while it’s been cool and wet in Denver, Fort Collins, Estes Park, Boulder and across the northeast plains, other areas of the state haven’t fared so well.
Most of the recent storms have been helping out the northern Front Range and the northern Front Range only. Areas near Grand Junction, Telluride, Durango, Pagosa Springs and Glenwood Springs are suffering from severe and exceptional drought and have been for quite some time.
Since May 2019, select areas across the Western Slope and southwest Colorado have seen the rainfall deficit grow to over 20 inches, but most areas have a deficit between 12 and 20 inches over the past two years. The drought that has been ongoing in this area of the state has been growing in size and intensity, leaving the upcoming summer a season with looming fire and water supply concerns.
The Standardized Precipitation-Evapotranspiration Index measures drought in an area based on the size and duration and until recently, the worst SPEI reading for the Western Slope came in 2002 with a value of -1.7. The current SPEI index is sitting at -2.1, the worst that has ever been seen since records started in the late 1800s and a very concerning number as we head into the hot, dry months.
Once the minimal snowpack melts off completely, which will likely come earlier this year thanks to a lack of snow this past winter, fire season will kick off and could turn very bad, very quickly.
If you haven’t been paying attention to the weather patterns lately, you may not know that river levels are running very low to the west of the Continental Divide and downstream reservoirs are expected to fill to less than half of what is normal. With the expected worsening of the drought in this area, water restrictions and fire restrictions will be likely as summer nears if they aren’t already in place.
The recent moisture surrounding the metro area has saved us from those same issues for the near term, but long-term forecasts are showing drier and warmer conditions for much of Colorado for June, July and August.
So, as trips are planned for the summer months, remember that while traveling pretty much anywhere in Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, the drought is on a level that has not been seen since the early 2000s and any outdoor plans will likely be met with restrictions and limitations.
Plan ahead, plan smart and save Colorado from having a fire season that rivals 2020, the worst wildfire season in Colorado’s history.