Heavy snows raise hopes of drought’s end | SummitDaily.com

Heavy snows raise hopes of drought’s end

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Colorado’s snowpack, the lifeblood for the state and other parts of the West, has climbed to 121 percent of the 30-year historical average ” an encouraging sign for experts who say it could be a key step toward ending a crippling drought.

“It’s been a wild and wonderful month of January,” said Mike Gillespie, snow survey supervisor for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. The snowpack is 128 percent of where it was last year on this date.

Gillespie said the state has already had more precipitation this month than a typical January, though the forecast calls for dry and warmer conditions over the next couple of weeks.

The long-term forecast calls for above-average precipitation in early February.

In the Upper Colorado River Basin, which includes Summit County, snow levels are at 111 percent of average, and up 124 percent from 2003, according to the Conservation Service.

Nolan Doesken, assistant state climatologist, said Tuesday that just 21 percent of Colorado is still in a drought. That’s down from 85 percent in 2002, which was “the most widespread drought condition since 1890,” Doesken said.

Doesken said an exceptionally wet year could end the drought that has hurt some parts of Colorado since 2000.

Still, the heavily populated Front Range has missed out on recent heavy snows and could end up with snowpack as low as 80 percent of normal, said Klaus Wolter, a climate researcher for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado.

He said his long-term forecast based on El Nino ocean warming and other factors suggests above-average moisture for the Front Range and north-central mountains through March.

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