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Recent snowstorms lower severity of drought in Southwest Colorado

Strong winter a hopeful sign for Southwest Colorado

Last week, portions of Montezuma and La Plata counties dropped out of the worst drought category, thanks to recent snowstorms.

Most of Montezuma County is now in “extreme drought,” down from the “exceptional drought” category, the highest of five levels on the U.S. Drought Monitor.

However, the southern portion of Montezuma County along the New Mexico border remains in “exceptional drought.”

Portions of La Plata County also improved. The mountainous northern county dropped two levels to “severe drought,” the third level of drought out of five.

The middle county valleys dropped one level to “extreme,” and the southern portion of La Plata County remains in “exceptional drought.”

Recent snowfall has put Cortez above normal for the year, said Jim Andrus, a weather observer for the National Weather Service.

For the winter season, October through May, Cortez has had 33.9 inches of snowfall, which is 110% of normal. Average winter snowfall through May is 36 inches.

Snowfall for February is 13.8 inches, or 184% of the 7.5-inch monthly average.

Precipitation so far this year in Cortez is 2.07 inches, or 114% of normal. The figure includes rain and snow-water equivalent.

“Despite the La Niña climate pattern which controls our weather this winter, upper-air circulation in mid-January replaced a dry high-pressure ridge over the Southwest with a low-pressure trough, which steered Pacific Northwest storms southeast over the Four Corners,” Andrus said. “This increased precipitation and snowfall over the first two months of 2021 to above-normal levels.”

Drought conditions still exist, but the situation is slowly improving, said Greg Felsen, CSU Agriculture Extension Agent for Montezuma County.

“We are continuing to be cautious,” he said. “People right now are still managing the risk for the drought in adjusting cattle allotments and planting rates for the season.”

Looking ahead, the hope is that temperatures stay cool and the winds stay calm.

If it sticks around, “the low-elevation snowpack will improve soil moisture needed by farmers to get a good start,” he said. But high temperatures and annual spring winds could wick it away quickly.

The county is partnering with the Montezuma County Agriculture Extension Office, Southwestern Colorado Research Center, Colorado Agricultural Alliance and Rocky Mountain Farmers Union to form a drought mitigation team, Felsen said.

It features drought planning information. Visit the ag extension and research center websites to learn more. Drought mitigation videos and information are posted soon on the Montezuma County website and Montezuma County YouTube channel.


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