Summit County ‘abnormally dry’ as most of Colorado falls into drought


The U.S. Drought Monitor map shows widespread drought in Colorado.
Courtesy map U.S. Drought Monitor

DILLON — Summit County fared well in the way of snowpack this year yet is experiencing dryness as portions of the state fall into drought conditions.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, Summit County’s drought level is classified as abnormally dry, while most of the counties in southern Colorado fall under extreme drought. 

The U.S. Drought Monitor’s July 16 high plains drought summary explained that southern states have seen a gradual deterioration over the summer and that Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and Kansas are experiencing drought conditions. The summary noted that despite some precipitation in northeastern Colorado, high temperatures expanded drought in much of the state. 

Treste Huse, a senior hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Boulder, said that while the snowpack was fairly normal this year, Summit County didn’t see the abundance of snowfall that it enjoyed last season. Overall, Huse said this season’s snow added onto leftover storage from last year. 

“We had that storage still from 2019, and it’s been holding pretty steady for the last half a year,” Huse said. “And then the snowpack was enough to bring us back up to where we’re around normal.”

Huse noted that it has been a dry spring and summer and that the snowpack melted out two to three weeks earlier than normal this year. Yet, water storage is strong as of the end of June. Huse said the upper Colorado River basin was at 109% of average water storage and at 97% capacity. Green Mountain Reservoir is currently sitting at 110% of average water and 99% of capacity. Huse said the area is faring much better than other parts of the state as the Arkansas basin is at 49% of average. She said six streams along the Blue River are showing normal streamflow while three streams that are mainly going into Dillon Reservoir are below normal.

Over the past 30 days, Huse said the county has seen a “flash drought” where dry conditions develop quickly, which can impact crops and fire weather — rated as high in Summit County. She said the percent of average precipitation throughout most of Summit County is running around 70% to 90% of normal. For July, only 0.49 inches of precipitation have been recorded at the weather site in Dillon while the normal precipitation level through July 20 is 1.13 inches.  

Huse said the next good chance for precipitation is Wednesday and that the county could see three-quarters to 2 inches of precipitation over the course of the week with better chances for afternoon showers and thunderstorms later in the week.

“We’re starting to get into that monsoonal flow where we get that moisture coming in either off the ocean or, in this case, it’s starting to come through Mexico,” Huse said. “It’s moister air, and it’s coming through Arizona, the Four Corners and then up into Colorado, and that’s a really good moisture source for us for getting precipitation in the summer.”

Moving forward, Blue River Watershed Group Executive Director Erika Donaghy said the drought will studied when creating the group’s long-term integrated water management plan. The group will be conducting stream assessments on parts of the river, which involves looking at hydrology trends in the rivers and streams. 

“What that will help us do is identify certain areas where that consistent climate change and overall growing drought in the region is affecting specific areas negatively, and then that will help inform what we do for future restoration projects,” Donaghy said.

Donaghy gave the example of a possible section of the river where flow is lower due to drought and cannot support fish that need a deeper water level. From there, the group could come up with solutions such as narrowing the stream channel. 

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