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Rain and snow dampen drought conditions in NE Colorado, but rest of state in worse shape

Exceptional drought still rampant across Western Slope; snowpack very low in SW Colorado
Posted at 1:42 PM, May 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-07 22:25:46-04

DENVER – Parts of northeastern Colorado are drought-free for the first time since last summer after a wet start to 2021 and with more rain in the forecast this weekend into early next week.

As of Friday morning, Denver International Airport, where official Denver weather records are recorded, had received 7.61 inches of precipitation to start the year – doubling the normal yearly value for this point in the year of 3.8 inches.

The National Weather Service said earlier this week that the 7.60 inches of rain that fell as of May 3 was good for fifth all-time in terms of the wettest start to a year. It has not rained and snowed this much since to begin a year since the early 1940s.

Denver averaged 14.3 inches of precipitation per year from 1981-2010, meaning the city has already received about half of the normal annual precipitation just over four months into 2021.

Denver got 2.02 inches of precipitation in April and has already received 0.77 inches so far in May. The airport saw 3.8 inches of precipitation in March – 2.88 inches more than normal – much of which fell in the March 13-14 snowstorm that dumped 27.1 inches of snow at Denver International Airport.

The snow and rain along the Front Range – particularly in northeastern Colorado – have helped move areas of the state that were experiencing moderate and severe drought in mid-March into drought-free areas as of this week, including parts of Weld, Morgan, Washington, Logan, Sedgwick, Phillips and Yuma counties.

This image shows the change in drought conditions in Colorado between March 16, 2021, and May 4, 2021.

Areas of Larimer, Boulder, Broomfield, Jefferson, Denver and Adams counties were also drought-free as of this week’s report, and parts of southeastern Colorado have seen improvement from extreme drought in March to only moderate drought as of this week, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The South Platte basin currently has 104% of its normal snow water equivalent for this time of year and the Laramie and North Platte basin is at 82% of normal. But the SWE for the other river basins are well below normal – with all the remaining basins below 70% of normal for this time of year and river basins in the southwestern part of the state already below 50% of normal.


The snowpack statewide never reached the median peak this year and is currently at 68% of the median range from 1981-2010, at 8.3 inches of snow water equivalent.

The contrast between northeastern Colorado and the rest of the state remains stark. The Western Slope has barely seen its exceptional and extreme drought conditions improve for months and has missed out on much of the precipitation seen on the east side of the Continental Divide.

The Colorado Climate Center noted the vast difference in how much precipitation various parts of the state received in April in a tweet earlier this week.

Grand Junction has received just 2.02 inches of precipitation since Jan. 1, more than an inch less than normal. The 2.56 inches of precipitation Durango has gotten so far this year is nearly 2 inches below normal for this point in the year.

While northeastern Colorado is again slated to get another inch or more of precipitation Saturday through Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service, much of the Western Slope was under red flag warnings Friday, with only a moderate chance of showers into Saturday and some uncertainty of whether the western half of the state will see significant moisture in the storm that will hit the eastern half of the state.

Colorado wildfire prevention officials said in early April that the state should another year of intense wildfires because of the widespread drought and said the fires would likely start in southern Colorado and move up to the majority of the Western Slope by July.

The report said southern Colorado is likely to see “an earlier than normal start to the core fire season” in late May. The officials said that this year’s preview report was similar to the 2020 outlook. Last year, the three largest wildfires in state history burned in several parts of the state – two of them into November.

Extreme drought persists across much of the West, which is also seeing some of its worst drought and water conditions in years. Both Lake Mead and Lake Powell, which are fed by the Colorado River, are already well below their normal storage and inflow levels this year, and the U.S. is preparing to make its first ever water-shortage declaration.