Jan 31, 2023 - News

Colorado's wet winter is a drop in the drought bucket

A west Denver neighborhood during a snowstorm on Jan. 18. Photo: RJ Sangosti/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The heavy snow blanketing the Rocky Mountains this winter is a welcome respite for the shrinking Colorado River.

Yes, but: Climate experts say it still falls short from saturating the state's drought-ridden reservoirs.

State of play: Colorado and other Western states that make up the Colorado River Basin are in the midst of a megadrought — the region's worst in 1,200 years.

Driving the news: Western Colorado and much of the Front Range have been buried under above-average snowfall this season, National Weather Service hydrologist Aldis Strautins tells us.

  • Snowpack at the Colorado River's headwaters is 133% of average compared with the 30-year median between 1991 and 2020. Other nearby mountain ranges are between 140% and 160% of normal levels, he says.

The big picture: Although the extra precipitation has helped curb Colorado's drought levels in the short-term, climate experts say the snow accumulation falls short of making a lasting impact.

What they're saying: "It would take multiple years like this in a row to really help with the long-term drought that those reservoirs are seeing," Strautins tells Axios Denver.

  • Brad Udall, a water and climate researcher at Colorado State University, told KUNC: "We would need five or six years at 150% snowpack to refill these reservoirs. And that is extremely unlikely."
Map: Courtesy of the U.S. Drought Monitor

By the numbers: 36% of the state is experiencing moderate to "exceptional" drought, compared with 88% a year ago, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

  • Those conditions are concentrated in eastern Colorado.

What to watch: With Colorado's snowiest months still ahead, the National Weather Service is predicting the northern part of the state will fare better than the southern region when it comes to snowpack.

  • Southern Colorado is forecast to have some higher probability of below-normal precipitation, while the northern part of the state could see equal chances of above- or below-normal moisture levels, Strautins says.

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