Drought continues, hopes for wet winter from El Niño event

RBC | According to the U.S. Drought Monitor all of Rio Blanco County is still currently classified as D3, or Extreme Drought, as precipitation around the county continues to fall well under normal rates. However, there is some hope to be found in the winter forecast.

Drought Levels in Rangely
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, has been tracking weather and climate related data in Rangely since 1894. The station currently sits near the Rangely Water Treatment Plant. According to NOAA data, by the end of August Rangely was 1.37 inches below normal precipitation, receiving only 6.22 inches from January through August.
In 2017 Rangely received total precipitation of 8.66 inches for the entire year while the historic average total annual precipitation sits at 10.03 inches.
NOAA predicts that the below normal precipitation will continue through the rest of September.
The fact that precipitation has been well below normal for multiple years has certainly exacerbated the drought conditions.

Dry conditions in Meeker
NOAA tracks Meeker’s climate and weather at a station located at the Bureau of Land Management Office. Meeker is currently below normal for precipitation by 0.81 of an inch, receiving 9.16 inches through the end of August.
In 2017, Meeker received a total of 15.73 inches of precipitation for the year and the historical data, which dates back to 1893 for the community, places an average annual precipitation of 16.54 inches. Jim Pringle with NOAA doesn’t anticipate much change in the standings through the month of September, saying, “Although we still have to wait just under two weeks from now to obtain the September 2018 precipitation for Meeker, it is doubtful based on the latest computer-generated atmospheric model guidance that Meeker will receive normal precipitation for September.”

Winter Forecast
The good news is that the National Weather Services’ Climate Prediction Center (CPC) is anticipating an El Niño episode for the upcoming 2018-2019 winter season, with odds favoring at least near normal precipitation in northwest Colorado during the late fall, winter and spring months.
An El Niño event is characterized as bringing unusually warm waters in the Pacific Ocean. This typically produces warmer-than-average temperatures over the western and northern United States. Wetter-than-average conditions are likely over portions of the western U.S and Gulf Coast regions, while drier-than-average conditions are usually expected in the Ohio Valley and the Pacific Northwest.
“If CPC’s forecast outlooks pan out, that would certainly put a significant dent in the drought conditions being experienced across the area, including Rio Blanco County,” Pringle said.
Jim Pokrandt, Community Affairs Director for the Colorado River District, believes that we’re going to need that forecast to pan out if we hope to recover from the drought. “We need several good snow years in a row to pull us out of this dry pattern where stream flows are low and soil moisture is low. Most certainly, if we have a second bad snow year in 2018-19, all water users will be greatly stressed as will be the environment,” he said.
Pokrandt thinks everyone should be concerned about the future water supply saying, “Water users are everybody, from irrigators to people who brush their teeth. Dry hydrology not only affects local water supply but it also impacts Lake Powell, Colorado’s and the Upper Basin states’ saving account whereby we can meet our obligations under the Colorado River Compact of 1922.”

By Jen Hill | jen@theheraldtimes.com