Trinidad recorded just 1.66 inches of precipitation between January 1 and June 9, the driest start to the year since 1948, when record keeping began, according to the National Weather Service (NWS) and the National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC).
Recently extreme drought conditions stretched to consume all of Las Animas, Bent and Baca counties. Extreme conditions also grew in Huerfano, Crowley, and Lincoln counties, and entered southeast Pueblo County.
The whole of southeast Colorado has had soil moisture levels dropping into the 5th percentile.
The United States, along with much of the world, experienced the highest May temperatures since record keeping began 141 years ago, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Friday, June 12.
The NDMC also reported that the above normal temperatures coupled with periods of strong winds continue to result in rapidly worsening conditions, drying out topsoil and leading to reports of widespread selling of cattle in southeast Colorado in the midst of harvesting the first cutting of alfalfa and triticale for hay.
Nearly two-thirds of the state is experiencing moderate drought or worse. One year ago, Colorado was free from abnormally dry conditions and all levels of drought for the first time since tracking began in 2000.
Meanwhile fire danger has also reached extreme levels in the area and most of the state has high or above average wildfire danger levels. The NWS has issued multiple red flag warnings due to high fire danger in southern parts of the state. Weather conditions, consisting of gusty winds, low relative humidity, and dry fuels, will be favorable for rapid-fire growth and spread.
Said Kyle Mozley, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Pueblo in an interview with Colorado agriculture newspaper The Fence Post, “For areas south of U.S. Highway 50, it’s been very dry. For Bent, Otero, Crowely and Las Animas counties, they are running under 40 percent of (what would be) normal for the four month period of 2020. Even though the four month precipitation for southeastern Colorado is normally about 3 inches, so far many locations have received 1 inch.”
Yet, along the Interstate 25 corridor, from Huerfano County, north into El Paso County, conditions are faring a bit better. “Precipitation through the January to April time-frame is between 50-75 percent of normal. So better, but not great,” Mozley said.
Late May to the first of June saw an uptick in precipitation for parts of southern Colorado. The mountains have had near daily hit and miss heavy rain, and some made it off the mountains and into the I-25 corridor, Mozley said.
Comparing this winter/spring snowpack with snowpack from one year ago, “The peak snowpack in the Arkansas and Rio Grande basins this winter was been very near average,” Tony Anderson, service hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Pueblo told The Fence Post. “That was only about two-thirds as much as last year which was near a historic high. The snowpack on June 2 was near the historically low values of 2018.” Anderson pointed out the tremendous change in snowpack in one month’s time, from April 1 to May 1, as snow melted rapidly this spring.
Justin Derner, a research leader for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service Rangeland Resources and Systems Research Unit said, “With average or below-average precipitation, ranchers and land managers in eastern Colorado will need to be proactively managing for a shortage in forage. Contingency planning should be underway for this shortage with options including: (1) earlier removal of grazing animals from pastures, especially for yearling cattle, (2) locating additional forage for grazing or hay, (3) early weaning of calves from cows, and (4) strategizing for culling of animals from the base cow herd.”
The Climate Prediction Center recently issued its June, July and August outlook, forecasting below normal precipitation from northern New Mexico into the western half of Colorado. Eastern Colorado has slightly more favorable chances for normal precipitation.
Temperature-wise, above-normal summer warmth is predicted for Colorado.
According to Mozley, it appears there will be a late start to the monsoon season, which is the reversal of the wind pattern that typically brings thunderstorm activity northward into the Rockies.