Ice and Fire

A plane drops fire retardant to slow the progress of a fire.

A plane drops fire retardant to slow the progress of a fire.

Kathryn Juhasz, Ranger Review Reporter

This year Colorado has experienced one of the driest winters on record, with only 2002 and 1981 having lower amounts of precipitation than this year. This drought has expanded to be considered an extreme drought across Southwestern and Southeastern Colorado, as well as The San Luis Valley.

The drought conditions seen this year are partially due to the La Niña cycle occurring this year. A La Niña cycle is an event that has to do with the trade wind patterns in the Pacific Ocean. The surface of the ocean is warmer than the water below it because it is heated by the sun. In the Pacific ocean, close to the Equator strong winds, called trade winds, blow the warm layer of water from east to west, toward the East Indies.

As a result, cooler waters surface in the Pacific   in place of the warmer water that is no longer there. This cold patch of water is what allows for a La Niña to occur. Cold ocean waters create dry, sinking air, while warm ocean waters create wet, rising air. La Niña seasons make precipitation lower, and average temperatures higher across the southern parts of the United States.

The effects of the warm, dry air moving across the country can be seen throughout Colorado. One recreation, in particular, is taking a big hit to its season due to ever decreasing snow levels. Ski resorts across the state and across the US pushed back their opening dates, and are predicting they will also have to close earlier than normal this season.

Across Colorado, ski resorts along with the towns and businesses near them make a majority of their revenue during the winter months. When ski seasons are shorter, they lose substantial amounts of revenue for that year.

In a report provided by Protect Our Winters (POW), a climate advocacy group based in Colorado, ski resorts report an average of 55.4 million skiers visiting their resorts annually.

The report also found that during years of low snowfall the resorts reported an average drop of 5.5 million visitors during that season. During these seasons, ski resorts lose an average of $1 billion across the country.

Snowfall averages continue to decrease every year, and it is beginning to concern many resorts across the country. A report put out by POW exemplifies how important it is to by attention to the climate for the sake of ski towns across the US, “Snowfall is diminishing, and the consequences are severe. The rising monetary toll is dwarfed by the insult of a lifestyle in decline.” The POW is concerned that if actions are not taken soon to help with climate change, it will leave many ski towns struggling to stay afloat.

As Colorado begins to move into spring and summer, another concern is arising. The lack of precipitation and snowfall in the winter have not only caused a drought, but also low humidity across the state. These conditions combined with high winds are causing fire danger to rise across the state, especially in southern Colorado.

This drought is worrying many meteorologists across the state because it shows many similarities to the conditions in 2013 that led up to the Waldo Canyon fire. In 2013, 40% of the state was in at least a moderate drought if not worse by February. This year, however, by February 70% of the state was in a moderate drought or worse.

Colorado has already experienced a number of wildfires since the beginning of the year. A fire in Grand Junction referred to as the Rosevale Fire, and a fire on Fort Carson have both occurred within the past month. Low humidity and high winds not only increase fire dangers but also make fires harder to contain.

As concerns continue to rise, the danger will as well. Fire bans across the state are starting to increase and the Colorado State Forest Service is stressing tree mitigation to help prevent fires this summer.

Overall the drought across the state affects many industries and people throughout the whole year. The La Niña season appears to be coming to an end and meteorologist across the state are hoping that this will allow conditions to start to get better. If they do not improve soon fears of a fire season like 2013 will begin to seem more possible.