June 9, 2004
The state of Colorado rode a climatological see-saw during March, April and May 2004 as the state remained far from recovering from multi-year drought conditions, according to climate experts at Colorado State University. March was one of the driest months in Colorado history, while above-average precipitation fell in April followed by several storms in early May.
Yet by mid-May, overall precipitation, according to state climatologist Roger Pielke, remained below average and high-country snowpack levels were low and quickly depleting, making water-use efficiency key as summer approached.
With Colorado in the seventh year of drought conditions, it remained unlikely the state would recover from the prolonged dry period this year.
Colorado would need unprecedented, almost unrealistic widespread amounts of rain to see a complete statewide recovery said Pielke. “Since the state is in a multi-year period with below-average precipitation, communities need to continue to be efficient in water use, a policy that should always be applied in this semi-arid state,” he said.
Warm weather during the first half of May resulted in early runoff and evaporation of some of the increased snowpack generated from April storms. On May 1, on a statewide basis, Colorado’s snowpack was boosted to 68 percent of average for the date (last year snowpack was 87 percent of average) and 78 percent of last year. By May 17, the snowpack had melted to 43 percent of average and 51 percent of last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The snowpack in the South Platte River Basin, a Denver water source, dropped from 65 percent of average on May 1 to 52 percent on May 17. In the Arkansas River Basin, where several other Front Range cities draw water, the snowpack dropped to 58 percent of average. The Colorado River Basin, which supplies states throughout the West, was reduced to 37 percent of average.
“Snowpack levels are important in Colorado because snowpack provides much of the water in the state’s rivers, streams and reservoirs. Eight major Colorado river systems also provide water to 10 western states,” said Pielke. “If Colorado does not receive additional significant summer rains and these snowpack levels continue to decrease at a rapid rate, the state could be facing serious late-summer drought conditions, including a heightened fire risk.”
Individual Colorado basin totals as of May 17 as reported by the NRCS follow.
|Yampa and White Basin||36 percent of average||36 percent of 2003’s snowpack.|
|Colorado Basin||37 percent of average||32 percent of 2003’s snowpack|
|Gunnison Basin||56 percent of average||71 percent of 2003’s snowpack|
|San Juan, Animas, Dolores, San Miguel basins||60 percent of average||155 percent of 2003’s snowpack.|
|Rio Grande Basin||48 percent of average||164 percent of 2003’s snowpack|
|Arkansas Basin||58 percent of average||69 percent of 2003’s snowpack|
|South Platte Basin||52 percent of average||45 percent of 2003’s snowpack|
Reservoir storage totals as reported by the NCRS varied throughout the state but overall were below average — yet well above where they were in May 2003. In early May 2004, statewide reservoir storage was 84 percent of average and 139 percent of the previous year.
Broken down by individual basin, reservoir storage totals follow.
|Yampa and White Basin||97 percent of average||83 percent of 2003 storage|
|Colorado Basin||89 percent of average||211 percent of 2003 storage|
|Gunnison Basin||111 percent of average||135 percent of 2003 storage|
|San Juan, Animas, Dolores, San Miguel basins||85 percent of average||130 percent of 2003 storage|
|Rio Grande Basin||54 percent of average||91 percent of 2003 storage|
|Arkansas Basin||53 percent of average||120 percent of 2003 storage|
|South Platte Basin||81 percent of average||128 percent of 2003 storage|
This article is based on a news release from Colorado State University.