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Drought fears persist despite storm

The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER ” A wild storm that unleashed rain, hail and snow in parts of Colorado gave a slight boost to the statewide snowpack but did little good in the mountains, the source of much of the water that feeds the region.

The National Weather Service said more than 2 feet of snow fell in parts of the foothills west of Denver Tuesday, and some spots on the Eastern Plains got up to 5 inches of rain, more than the monthly average for April.

But the statewide snowpack stood at only 76 percent of the 30-year average Wednesday, the same as a year ago. The total rose slightly from 73 percent on Monday.

The South Platte and Arkansas river basins in eastern Colorado were at or slightly above 100 percent of average, but basins in western Colorado ranged from 57 percent to 82 percent.

Colorado’s mountain snowmelt provides much of the state’s water and water for six other Western states.

“This definitely has been a Front Range and Eastern Plains storm and not a big mountain storm,” said state climatologist Nolan Doesken. “So the idea that this is really adding to the snowpack and adding to the water summer supply is really not quite true.”

The storm does buy the state some time, delaying the need for eastern Coloradans to draw heavily on water in reservoirs, some of which are filled by diversions from rivers in the western part of the state.

The outlook was more optimistic earlier in the year after Colorado, grappling with drought for at least six years, was pounded by back-to-back blizzards in the east and big snowfalls in the mountains.

But the snowpack levels fell from early February to April. The culprit was drier-and warmer-than-normal weather in March.

“We saw a pretty significant decrease in snowpack in March,” said Mike Gillespie of the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service in Denver.

Early runoff means the water may be gone by the time farmers need it later in the year. It also could bring rivers to their peak before rafters are ready to book their trips.

The snow doesn’t typically finish melting in the southwestern mountains until the first of July and mid-July in the northwestern mountains. Gillespie said the snow could be gone as early as the first of June in both areas this year.


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