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Monsoon pattern improves drought conditions in Colorado's mountains, Western Slope

Posted at 3:15 PM, Aug 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-05 17:35:57-04

DENVER – The monsoon pattern that has brought persistent rain to much of Colorado over the past few weeks has improved drought conditions in the mountains and on the Western Slope.

The portion of the state experiencing exceptional drought — entirely along the Western Slope and northeast Colorado — dropped from 15% last week to 6% this week, and the percentage of the state seeing extreme or exceptional drought fell from 27% to 21%, according to data from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

In all, 57% of Colorado is drought-free – not a significant change from last week but much better than the 7% of the state that was drought free in early May. Some areas of northeastern Colorado have re-entered the “abnormally dry” category this week.

While the monsoon rains over the burn scars from last year’s wildfires have led to 259 flash flood warnings already this year — by far the most in a total year since 1997, according to the National Weather Service — and numerous flash floods and mudslides, they have helped improve the drought conditions in the areas that have seen the most precipitation.

Aspen has received 3.3 inches of rain since June 1, more than half an inch above normal for this time period and more than 1 ½ inches above what it received as of this time last year.

Montrose has gotten 1.99 inches of rain since June 1 — 0.7 inches above normal for this time of year. Durango has gotten 3.2 inches of rain since June 1 – more than 1.3 inches above normal for the period.

Rifle, at 1.73 inches of rain since June 1, is about normal for this period of the year but is still 2 inches below its average precipitation for the year.

Grand Junction has received 0.6 inches of rain since June 1, about a half-inch below normal for the period, and Craig is about 1 ½ inches below its normal rainfall for June and July.

The Drought Monitor shows exceptional drought conditions have been downgraded to extreme drought in western Grand County, northwestern Eagle County, most of Rio Blanco and Garfield counties.

In parts of Gunnison, Delta, Montrose and San Miguel counties, the extreme drought was downgraded to severe drought since last week.

Despite the improving drought conditions, areas in western Colorado are still primed for wildfire activity. A red flag warning was in effect Thursday into Friday evening across northwestern Colorado.

While Colorado has seen some gradual improvement in drought conditions over the past few weeks, little has improved across most of the rest of the West. Arizona saw a slight improvement in its drought, but more than 40% of western state remain in extreme or exceptional drought conditions this week.

The Drought Monitor’s monthly outlook shows drought is expected to persist across the western half of Colorado and much of the West and High Plains through August, with slightly improving conditions in Arizona and New Mexico and likely increasing drought across most of Nebraska.

But the persistent western drought has led to massive wildfires across the area. In California, the Dixie Fire has quickly grown to more than 320,000 acres in size and has dumped more smoke across the West. Smoke from the fires have led to air quality alerts for more than a month straight along Colorado’s Front Range.