SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald
The drought conditions that have a firm grip on Southwest Colorado don’t show signs of releasing their hold quickly, a climatologist at the National Drought Mitigation Center said Wednesday.
The three-month outlook appears dry and hot. The federal government on Wednesday declared six counties, including La Plata, as primary natural disaster areas because of ongoing severe drought conditions.
A couple of events that don’t bode well are happening, said Mark Svoboda.
The drought has definitely shifted to the West, Svoboda said, referring to his office’s color-coded map that shows Southwest Colorado in red (extreme drought) but not the purple of exceptional drought that is choking Colorado’s plains counties. Southeast Colorado is in the third year of drought.
Six months ago, the map showed a lot of the east in red, Svoboda said.
The National Drought Mitigation Center, which collaborates with multiple state, national and international agencies, is part of the University of Nebraska in Lincoln. Its purpose is to help people mitigate the effects of drought.
A map produced by the Climate Prediction Center, an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, shows all of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California and Wyoming and parts of Texas, Kansas, Idaho and Oregon as areas where drought can continue or intensify.
The Climate Prediction Center outlook runs from June 6 to Aug. 31.
The National Weather Service concurs that Southwest Colorado appears headed for a hot and dry summer. In fact, the 90-day forecast for most of the country is for above-normal temperatures.
One factor that makes the three-month outlook so grim, Svoboda said, is uncertainty about El Niño and La Niña phenomena. Warming of water in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, referred to as El Niño, can bring rain to Southwest Colorado. Conversely, La Niña conditions, cooling of the same waters, can reduce precipitation in the Southwest Colorado.
The winters of 2010-11 and 2011-12 exhibited La Niña conditions and 2012-13 was neutral, Svoboda said. The jury is undecided about the coming winter. But because there are no strong signs one way or the other, experts are leaning toward neutrality or another La Niña.
U.S. Department of Agriculture officials were concerned enough Wednesday to declare La Plata, Montezuma, Dolores, San Miguel, Ouray and Hinsdale counties primary natural disaster areas because of drought conditions.
Six other counties – Archuleta, San Juan, Gunnison, Mineral, Montrose and Saguache – were declared contiguous disaster areas.
“Despite some relief earlier this year, we’re seeing how quickly our weather can get hot and dry, creating hazardous fire and drought conditions,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said Wednesday in a news release.
The classification means farmers and ranchers in those counties are eligible for additional Farm Service Agency loans, Bennet said.
“This assistance will help Colorado producers manage tough conditions,” Bennet said. “It also demonstrates the urgency for Congress to pass a full five-year farm bill that will provide aid when weather disasters affect their output.”
The possibility of a summer with continuing drought and its effect on water supply hasn’t caused Durango city officials to panic, spokeswoman Sherri Dugdale said Wednesday.
The level of water in Terminal Reservoir, which stores the city’s water supply, is at stage 1, which requires no action, Dugdale said.
But a flier that points out that saving water is saving money is going out in utility bills next week, she said. The flier contains information about how to save water while washing dishes or doing the laundry, showering or watering landscaping.
The information points to what can occur when the reservoir reaches stage 2 – a public-education campaign about water conservation. At stage 3, the city manager can declare a water shortage, and at stage 4, the city manager can prohibit all nonessential water use.