Relief for Colorado drought conditions may be on the way in the form of a wet summer.
State Climatologist Nolan Doesken delivered the news Wednesday during the Arkansas River Basin Water Forum in Leadville.
Summer precipitation would be good news for state water managers and firefighters, but even Doesken acknowledged, “More than a week out, weather projections get really difficult.”
Nonetheless, Doesken said data indicate the currently dominant La Niña weather pattern may be giving way to a wetter (for Colorado) El Niño pattern.
Doesken presented data from around the state that shows below-average precipitation, which he described as “unsettling.”
March 2012, he added, is one of the three warmest and driest Marches on record in Colorado, similar to March 1910.
Doesken said the Arkansas Basin has been “chronically dry since the wet summer of 2010.” Walsenburg, for example, “has large, Dust Bowl-type (precipitation) deficits.”
With dwindling snowpack, Doesken said, conditions are similar to 2002.
Snowpack measurements at the Fremont Pass Snowpack Telemetry, or SNOTEL, station are slightly better than 2002 readings, he said.
Unfortunately, Doesken said, snowpack at the Porphyry Creek SNOTEL station just west of Monarch Pass has already melted out, just as it did in 2002.
Doesken said the May stream-flow forecast is not yet available, but the April 1 forecast projects stream flows at only 40 percent of average in the Upper Arkansas Basin.
Stream flows in the Sangre de Cristo Range are predicted to be about 60 percent of average, Doesken said.
Doesken also provided information about historical weather patterns in Colorado.
He said the data show that, in spite of wide variability from year to year, the past 20 years have been wetter than average, based on 30-year precipitation averages.
Monthly temperature averages, Doesken said, are slightly warmer than in 1920, the earliest data for average temperatures at stations around the state.
Doesken also mentioned the well-known claim that Colorado enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year.
He said the claim first appeared in print in 1870 in a New York City publication and was never based upon any scientific data.