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Ongoing drought starts to take toll on Aspen area

Precipitation has been below average for 8 of 11 months this year

A snowy Roaring Fork River runs through an otherwise dry landscape with a view of Gold Butte in Aspen on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The drought that kept its grip on Pitkin County and most of Colorado all summer is now reaching into early winter.

November was the eighth month this year that precipitation at the Aspen Water Treatment Plant was below average.

“We’ve been stuck in a weather pattern that’s pretty dry,” Kris Sanders, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said Thursday.



There’s not much relief at least over the next weeks, he said. Expect generally dry conditions with an occasional storm.

“It’s kind of the same story that we’ve seen the last two months,” Sanders said.



The La Niña weather pattern that’s in place generally favors precipitation in the Northern Rockies. Colorado is in the transition zone, with conditions generally drier farther to the south. That leaves Aspen in a toss-up area.

The weather report filed by the Aspen Water Department for November detailed the lack of snow last month.

“There was 14 inches of snowfall recorded at the Water Treatment Plant, noticeably below the average of 21.8 inches,” the report said. “This correlated with below average total precipitation with 1.76 inches of moisture measured. The average is 1.99 inches.”

The dry conditions have affected ski season already. Aspen Highlands will be forced to open later than planned due to sparse snow cover, Aspen Skiing Co. announced Thursday.

January, March, May and July through November all fell short of par. Only February, April and June exceeded average.

For the calendar year, the water plant has received 17.95 inches of precipitation. The average is 20.62, according to data recorded by the water department. That’s a decrease of 8.7%.

The water plant tends to get decent precipitation due to its elevation at 8,148 feet. The farther downvalley, the drier conditions have been this year. At the National Weather Service station at Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, for example, only 8.5 inches of precipitation has fallen year-to-date, well below the average of 16.19 inches.

The snowpack at the headwaters of the Roaring Fork River was at 69% of median Thursday.

The U.S. Drought Monitor report for the state of Colorado. Pitkin County is highlighted in green. (Courtesy image)

The latest map released Thursday by the U.S Drought Monitor showed the western half of Pitkin County remains in the “exceptional drought” category, the highest possible. The eastern half of the county is considered in “extreme drought.” Almost all of Eagle and Garfield counties also are in the “exceptional drought” classification.

The outlook for December is for below average precipitation and above average temperatures for all of Colorado, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center Long Range Forecasts.

The three-month outlook indicates temperatures will be warmer than average for Colorado. Aspen and the Central Rocky Mountains have an equal chance of precipitation being above or below average.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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