Climate Center Says Colorado Continues to Recover from Drought Conditions; More Winter Weather Watchers Needed

Note to Editors: A list of available Colorado cities’ precipitation levels is available online at

Colorado’s reservoirs returned to near normal levels in 2005, contributing to the ongoing recovery from severe drought that hit the state in 2002, according to researchers at the Colorado Climate Center based at Colorado State University.

"Precipitation during the past year has been critical for recharging soil moisture over Colorado croplands, range and forest areas that had never fully recovered from the recent severe drought," said Nolan Doesken, assistant state climatologist and senior research associate in the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University. "By itself, it would not have been sufficient to make up for all past deficits, but it has been a part of a gradual return to what I would call a fairly average climatic condition.

"When we talk about having an average year for Colorado, we averaged 17 inches of precipitation statewide for the year. That isn’t much," Doesken said. "Water shortage is a reality in Colorado."

A contributing factor was temperatures, which remained above average statewide for the past year. The state experienced above-average temperatures during the winter for the 12th straight year, Doesken said.  An extreme heat wave also hit in July.

Long-term data from about 200 National Weather Service Cooperative Network weather observers and several dozen automated SNOTEL or Snow Telemetry stations – a U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service network of remote mountain stations measuring precipitation and snowpack water content – are used to track statewide climatic conditions.  In recent years, this has been supplemented by data from hundreds of volunteers participating in the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow (CoCoRaHS) Network.  

Doesken said more CoCoRaHS volunteers are needed, particularly during the winter months.

Between Oct. 1, 2004, and Sept. 30, precipitation levels were near long-term averages over most of the eastern three-quarters of the state while western Colorado was much wetter than average.

Fruita, near the Colorado/Utah border, received 14.49 inches of precipitation or 158 percent of average. Also receiving significant wet weather were a few locations near Durango, parts of Moffat and Rio Blanco counties in northwestern Colorado and the area between Grand Junction and Glenwood Springs.

Some areas still struggle with below-average precipitation such as parts of the Arkansas Valley, the eastern Plains and a few mountain areas. Hugo, southeast of Limon, received a mere 10.71 inches or 78 percent of average between Oct. 1, 2004 and Sept. 30.

Southwest Colorado got off to an extremely wet start with precipitation totals nearly double the average between October and mid-January, but the last half of the year was dry, leading those areas to end up only slightly above average for the year. Drier-than-average conditions were fairly common east of the mountains where a dry May, July and September reduced yields from crops that rely on summer precipitation. Precipitation was between 70 and 85 percent of average for parts of Weld and Morgan counties south through Limon and Hugo to the Arkansas River.

The Plains received a slight reprieve last month: More than 4 inches of rain fell in October in some parts of eastern Colorado.

"At least we’ve now had a couple of years of fairly average conditions," Doesken said. "We’ve been watching the state’s reservoirs as well as soil moisture levels. We’ve been inching back up to near average levels. We’re making progress in getting more water into storage to be ready for the next drought."

Researchers depend on weather watchers with rain gauges throughout Colorado for accurate data, said Doesken.

The non-profit CoCoRaHS Network includes volunteers ages 6 to 85 in nearly every county of Colorado. Nearby states have also joined the network:  Wyoming, New Mexico, Texas, Kansas, Nebraska and most recently Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland.  Volunteers improve precipitation monitoring and help provide detailed drought, water supply and other water decision-making information to municipalities, homeowners, industry, agriculture, utility providers, resource managers and educators.

CoCoRaHS aims to have one weather watcher with a rain gauge at least every square mile in Colorado in urban areas and at least one every 36 square miles in rural areas. The program is in the process of recruiting at least five new volunteers per county for all 63 counties.

Winter is an especially critical time for the program, which is funded by the National Science Foundation and charter sponsors.

"We know winter snow measurements are a little more challenging," said Henry Reges, national coordinator for the CoCoRaHS Network. "But by measuring carefully and accurately, we are able to track the fascinating storm patterns that eventually determine what plants grow, whether we have water to drink or where we can travel safely."

CoCoRaHS sells weather gauges at cost for $25 that measure rainfall to the nearest 0.01 inches and snowfall to the nearest 0.1 inches. Thanks to donations from sponsors, complimentary gauges are available in several counties. Volunteers are encouraged to take measurements on a consistent basis when they are home and available. Training is provided.

To volunteer as a weather watcher or for more information, go to or contact Henry Reges at (970) 491-1196 or