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August storms too little, too late
Rains ease fire danger but can't touch drought

Sherri Barber/The Coloradoan

FLOW STILL LOW: Water trickles along in the Larimer Weld Canal near Timberline Road on Tuesday. State climatologist Roger Pielke Sr. said last month's rain did little to ease the drought plaguing the region.

While fall storms could bring much-needed moisture, Colorado State University experts warn they won't make a big difference in the current drought.

"Fall rains are good, but by themselves they're not enough to break the drought," said Roger Pielke Sr., a professor of atmospheric sciences and state climatologist. "It took us a while to get into the drought and it will take us a while to get out."

Limited rainfall in August did moisten the soil in north central and northwest counties, easing the state's fire danger, he said, but it was too little, too late to ease the drought.

"August was better than June or July, certainly," Pielke said. "It didn't get worse in August, but we were already in bad shape."

In August, .65 inches of moisture was measured at the Colorado Climate Center on the CSU campus. That is less than half of the 1.4 inches that fall in an average August, said research climatologist Nolan Doesken.

"We can add yet another dry month to the list," he said.

However, lower temperatures in August helped reduce water demand.

"It's about a degree (70.4) above average (69.3), but it seemed downright cool compared to June and July," Doesken said. "June and July were the hottest two-month period in recorded history."

June's average temperature of 71.3 degrees and July's average temperature of 76.1 degrees both were five degrees above normal. In addition, almost no official precipitation was recorded in July. The .07 inches that fell made it the second driest July in 114 years. Average July precipitation is 1.87 inches.

"There was a sense that drought conditions were easing a bit (in August), but it's only a sense because it has not added to reservoir levels, it has not added to streamflow levels, it hasn't really impacted the Front Range corridor where most of us live," Doesken said.

Even with fall rains, Doesken expected little change.

"In an average September and October, we expect to receive (2.36) inches of moisture," he said. "That would seem pretty good right now, but it would (only) moisten the top soil a little bit. It doesn't change much, although people's yards would say: 'Thank you.' "

Pielke said fall rains would benefit winter wheat crops and recharge soil for spring planting. However, it's precipitation later in the year that will determine whether Colorado gets out of the drought.

"We could be fortunate to receive some fall rain, but climatologically, in order to get out of the drought we need to see good winter and spring precipitation," he said.

Originally published in the Coloradoan, Wednesday, September 4, 2002

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