Colorado stuck in drought despite rain |

Colorado stuck in drought despite rain

Courtesy of NOAA A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite image for a larger view of El Niño taken on Sept. 7. The warm sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean are represented in red. Blues suggest a cooling trend away from the average temperature. Reds suggest a warming trend.

MONTROSE – Climate experts are keeping an eye on the Pacific Ocean, hoping that an El Nino system takes shape to provide the moisture-starved West with rain and snow that could put a dent in the regional drought.Jim Pringle, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said a weak El Nino system could mean near normal precipitation patterns early this winter.”To really beat back this drought we need more than near normal precipitation,” Pringle said Monday. “We’re going to need a whole lot more to really get out of it, but at least near normal would carry us through next year.”

El Nino conditions that have developed in the central Pacific are expected to last through 2005, said Jim Laver, director of the Climate Prediction Center for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.Such conditions occur when sea temperatures rise, and the effects can range from droughts to floods. A La Nina pattern is when ocean waters become cooler than normal, and that usually means drier weather in Colorado.”A weak El Nino does not always mean wetness for the Colorado River Basin, but it means there’s the potential for a normal or wet year,” said Dave Brandon, chief hydrologist with NOAA’s Colorado Basin River Forecast Center. “At least it’s not a La Nina.”Brandon said the last significant El Nino was in 1997-1998.

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the overall statewide average of water stored in reservoirs through August is 78 percent of normal – but still a 107 percent increase over last year.”We’re slightly ahead of last year,” said Chris Pacheco, the assistant data collection officer for the agency. “The late summer rain we’ve been having has been great but we still need a pretty good snowpack to alleviate the long-term effects of the drought we’ve had in Colorado.”We made up a little ground over the last year, but we’re not out of the woods yet.”

Marc Catlin, manager of the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, said fall rain is crucial to a good snowpack over the winter – and he’d like to see rain in the mountains.”It’s a big deal to get the rains in the high county so the mountain soil freezes, which helps the snow on top of the ground stay frozen,” Catlin said.Catlin said as far as he was concerned, the state was still in a drought.”We might have caught a little break this year, but it’s far from over,” Catlin said.

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