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Colorado drought returns as rain halts, temperatures rise

Colorado’s reprieve from drought lasted two weeks as warm temperatures and little precipitation have put the southwest corner of the state back to dry conditions.

The U.S. Drought Monitor last week reported that 20% of the state is back in drought, just two weeks after its July 6 finding that the state was drought-free for the first time since 2019.

A broad swath of southwest Colorado — including Grand Junction, Gunnison, Durango and Montrose — has returned to abnormally dry conditions. The Western Slope received unusual amounts of rain through June, said Norv Larson, a meteorologist with The National Weather Service in Grand Junction.

“It just kind of precipitously ended here at the end of June,” he said.

Despite a heavy snowpack and a wet spring in Colorado this year, climatologists say droughts will be more common and more severe. One good year cannot reverse years of warmer and drier weather.

The return of drought in Colorado comes as swaths of the U.S. swelter with dangerous heat. Temperatures in Phoenix have reached 110 degrees for 24 days in a row — the longest such streak on record. More than a third of the U.S. population — 116 million people — were living under heat advisories and warnings last week, according to The Washington Post.

Temperatures have risen in Colorado as well. Temperatures in Grand Junction have repeatedly matched or exceeded record highs. On Sunday, the 105-degree heat was a record high. On Monday, the 107 degrees recorded matched the all-time high for the city and set a new daily record. Other Western Slope cities like Ouray and Lake City are also seeing record highs.

Temperatures in Grand Junction have exceeded 100 degrees on eight days so far in July, Larson said.

“It’s not the hottest season on record but it’s higher than average in terms of heat,” he said.

Summer rains are starting to become more frequent, he said.

“We’re finally getting some shower activity here but it’s pretty spotty,” he said. “We’re just now transitioning to storms capable of precipitation.”

Meteorologists and climatologists at the U.S. Drought Monitor predict that drought will continue to expand in Colorado through the end of summer. Half of the U.S. was in drought conditions as of the monitor’s most recent report last week.

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