Drought conditions for Steamboat upped to ‘exceptional’

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Steamboat downpour

Steamboat Springs finally gets some rain on July 6.

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View the U.S. Drought Monitor map for Colorado here.

Volunteer to gauge rain

The Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University encourages people to consider becoming a rain gauge volunteer for the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network. Information is available at www.cocorahs.org.

“There are surprisingly few rain gauges distributed across your basin for tracking precipitation resources,” state climatologist Nolan Doesken said. “As a result, climate monitoring products often do a poor job of describing climatic conditions in your area — especially the localized variations in precipitation that often accompany storms, if and when they occur.”

Doesken said there are 28 people signed up to report precipitation amounts in Routt County, but there is limited participation. For example, on Friday morning, only three people submitted reports and they were all from the Steamboat area.

— Drought conditions this week were declared “exceptional” for Steamboat Springs and other areas of Northwest Colorado.

“That’s a pretty big deal,” said Nolan Doesken, state climatologist with the Colorado Climate Center. “That category is reserved for the worst of the worst.”

Doesken was among the group that met Tuesday via conference call to help determine drought conditions for Colorado. After a variety of input, the updated U.S. Drought Monitor on Thursday reflected the increased severity from “extreme” to “exceptional.” According to the Drought Monitor, 70.7 percent of Colorado is experiencing extreme drought conditions, and 5.5 percent of the state has the most severe ranking of exceptional.

Doesken said on average, an area experiences exceptional drought conditions once every 50 years.

Doesken said this year is among the most severe droughts on record for Northwest Colorado and is similar to the extreme conditions in 1934, 1977 and 2002. So which one was the worst?

“That ends up being a function of who you are and where you were at the time,” Doesken said.

Routt County is experiencing somewhat of a reprieve from the dry weather this week. Monsoonal airflow produced storms Wednesday and Thursday that brought one-tenth of an inch of rain. Rainfall was more significant Friday, when a downpour flooded some Steamboat streets. Totals from Friday’s rainstorm won’t be confirmed until this morning.

However, Doesken does not expect the consistent moisture to continue much longer because the monsoon pattern typically benefits Southwest Colorado the most.

“The most likely answer is it won’t stick around,” Doesken said. “You should definitely be celebrating what you’ve seen so far.”

With the recent precipitation, Doesken said the Drought Monitor group likely would discuss bringing the Steamboat area back down to the “extreme” level, but the group typically looks for signs of a more prolonged change in weather patterns.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has designated all but two Colorado counties as natural disaster counties because of the damage caused by drought, excessive heat and high winds. According to a news release, this designation makes all qualified farm operators in the designated areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans from USDA's Farm Service Agency.

Kate Brunton, with the Routt County Farm Service Agency, said emergency funding has been requested that would partially reimburse ranchers for the cost of hauling water for livestock.

“That depends if we get the funding,” Brunton said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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