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Colorado drought worsens as report says climate change causing higher temps in Southwest

More than half of Colorado was drought-free three months ago
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Posted at 5:21 PM, Oct 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-21 13:50:19-04

DENVER – Drought continues to spread back across Colorado after a dry summer and start to fall, with nearly all the state at least abnormally dry just three months after more than half the state was drought-free.

This week’s report from the U.S. Drought Monitor shows 95% of Colorado is abnormally dry or worse, compared to 45% of the state experiencing those same drought conditions on July 13. Sixty-six percent of the state is seeing moderate drought conditions or worse; 29% of Colorado is experiencing severe drought or worse; and 14% is seeing extreme drought conditions.

The only pockets of the state that are currently drought-free include areas of Logan, Sedgwick, Phillips and northern Yuma counties in northeastern Colorado; most of Kiowa County; parts of Teller and southeast Park counties, and eastern Las Animas County.

Northwestern Colorado, including Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt counties, are all seeing extreme or exceptional drought conditions that have remained mostly unchanged through the summer.

Nearly all the Denver metro area is now under moderate drought conditions.

As of Thursday, Denver was 0.73 inches below normal for precipitation for the year, but the airport where official records are tallied has received just 0.93 inches of precipitation since the start of July, several inches below normal.

In late July, 57% of the state was drought-free – nearly all on the eastern side of the state.

The increasing drought comes as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a report late last month from a task force that found the Southwest drought that has persisted since last year would not have been as intense had it not been for human-caused global warming causing higher temperatures from January 2020 through August 2021.

The task force, which included Colorado scientists, found the Southwest will continue to get hotter unless serious action is taken to address climate change and that even in years where there is a normal snowpack, higher temperatures could melt the snow faster and lead to more evaporation and thus more drought.

The Southwest had the lowest total precipitation and third-highest daily average temperatures over the time period that are on record since 1895, the report found, which led to “an unyielding, unprecedented, and costly drought.”

The researchers found that it was uncertain when the area would receive enough precipitation to return to the same levels seen pre-drought and found the drought “will last at least into 2022, potentially longer.”

“Continued warming of the U.S. Southwest due to greenhouse gas emissions will make even randomly occurring seasons of average- to below-average precipitation a potential drought trigger, and intensify droughts beyond what would be expected from rainfall or snowpack deficits alone,” the report states.

“Human-caused increases in drought risk will continue to impose enormous costs upon the livelihoods and well-being of the ~60+ million people living in the six states of the U.S. Southwest, as well as the broader communities dependent on the goods and services they produce,” it adds.

The report also found that the 2020 economic cost of drought and wildfire in Colorado was between $1 billion and $2 billion.