Cloudy, cool, wet May just about the norm

Before everyone starts off summer talking about the rainiest, coldest May ever in Colorado, the state climatologist has a few words to say about that.

“You are forgetting how May used to be,” said Nolan Doesken, never at a loss for very cool climate, weather and odd folksy forecasting information. “This is by no means the coldest May here. You would have to lower the temperature several degrees for that.”

And for the lower elevations of the Northern Front Range, May is typically the wettest month of the year, Doesken said, as well as the cloudiest. He said both 1995 and 1983 were colder than this year, and both saw significant snow events in the Front Range.

“Does that mean it’s always this wet and this cloudy in May? Well,” he said, “maybe not.”

Certainly not in Morgan County, which has seen between 12 and 14 inches of precipitation since mid-April. Normally one of the driest locations in northeast Colorado, that’s easily a year’s precipitation in only five weeks.

Which is OK with a lot of people in Morgan County, where they happen to raise a lot of winter wheat that depends on natural precipitation.

“There won’t be any moisture problem, though we do have a bit of a (wheat) rust problem with all this cold weather,” said Joe Westhoff, the seeds and traits specialist at Colorado Wheat, who happens to hail from Morgan County. Statewide, farmers were fairly aggressive with planting, he said, with roughly 2.35 million acres planted this year.

“The potential is there for a real good crop,” Westhoff said. “When the sun comes out and the stripe rust gets slowed down and stopped, northeastern Colorado could easily be over 40 bushels per acre.”

Early in the spring, hot temperatures had the wheat crop about two weeks ahead of schedule, but after a wet May the crop may already be more than two weeks behind schedule.

“Of course, every year anything happen; it could hail you out,” Westhoff added. “Call me when it’s in the bin; there’s lots of variables even this close to harvest.”

Of course, we all should have expected this, Doesken said, as the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center, was predicting a very wet spring all along. Doesken noted nobody was buying in to that prediction when early spring was pretty warm and dry.

“But they stuck to their guns, even when nobody was believing them,” Doesken said. Then a strengthening El Nino pattern emerged and the big low pressure center dropped into the Great Basin between Colorado and California.

“That low pressure is tapping into moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and throwing storm cells from the southwest up north right into the Front Range.

And unfortunately, the Climate Center is also making a pretty bold prediction for the beginning of June; even more of the same.

“Usually come summer the forecast is usually a coin flip, but they are staying with that same prediction: Not so hot and also wet,” Doesken said.

One thing that may be made clear is that the claim that Colorado has more than 300 of sunny weather is a bit of a stretch: even if only one hour a day of sun is how the claim is made.

“There has been only three clear days in the last five weeks,” said Doesken; meaning the rest of the year has some catching up to do.

“I do believe that by mid-June the sun begins to win,” he said. “I have faith that the climate will behave somewhat as it has in past and we’ll have plenty of sun by midsummer.”

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