As of January, the state of Colorado—and particularly the high mountain areas—had recorded as much as 75% of its actual snow fall totals, putting the state on track for a wet year that would hopefully put an end to the recent string of droughts. The town of Crested Butte, in particular, piled up nearly eight feet of snow in the span of just 10 days, and much of the high country has been steadily inundated all winter.
At one point, the state was on pace to reach 150% of the average statewide snowpack, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a mark that has only been reached three times before, in the winters of 1979, 1984 and 1997.
“Colorado went from one of the lowest levels of snowpack in over 30 years to one of the highest since Nov. 17,” Colorado Snow Survey Supervisor Brian Domonkos told Denver CBS4.
As of February 1, things were looking up.
But then things changed. February rolled in to become the second warmest, driest on record, according to NOAA, and the winter of 2016-2017 was later labeled the sixth warmest on record. And with that weather shift, came a return to drought conditions, particularly on Colorado’s Eastern Plains, where warm, dry weather has been the norm for weeks. In early March, the U.S. Drought Monitor reported that about 52% of the state is “abnormally dry” and another 37% is under “moderate drought,” including all of the Front Range. Down in Lincoln County, the state’s far southeastern corner, the conditions are classified as “extreme drought.”
This time a year ago, the same report found that 14% of Colorado was under drought conditions.
Preparing for Spring
The lesson in all of this is, of course, is that weather in Colorado is ever-changing, and planning from one week to the next—let alone one year to the next—is all but impossible. For homeowners in the state, we’re looking at what could be either a very wet year, as all of that high country snowpack melts off, contributing to potential flooding in the foothills and along the Front Range, or a very dry year, if the increasing drought conditions continue and spread. In that case, wildfires are more likely.
What should homeowners do to prepare for spring in this environment? Get creative.
Wet: In anticipation of what may very well be a high flood year across Colorado, it’s important to first check your homeowner’s insurance policy to make sure you have flood coverage in place. If not, and your home is located in a known flood plain, the time is now to purchase it. Standard homeowners polices don’t typically cover flood events, so a specific flood coverage rider is required to protect your property in the case of an incident.
Beyond that, early spring is a good time to clean out your gutters and verify that your home’s drainage systems are clear and functional. Make sure your windows and doors are properly sealed, and that water has no way into your home.
Dry: Nationwide, there are more than 100,000 wildfires in the U.S. every year, and Colorado gets its fair share of those, everywhere from the mountains to the plains. It can be very difficult to protect your home in the event of a serious wildfire, but it is important to at least prepare for evacuation and understand your risk factors before fire season starts. Keep the area around your home clear of loose tree branches, yard debris and anything else that could be fuel for a fire, and maintain as much open space around the structure as possible to function as a firebreak.
Beyond fire danger, dry years can, of course, be very hard on yards and plants in Colorado, so it is important to keep a close eye on them in the event of drought to ensure that they get the water they need and don’t die. In the case of extreme drought, when state authorities issue water usage restrictions, consider replacing water sensitive plants and landscaping with hardier, more drought tolerant varieties.