Moisture bringing some relief

A near-record hot February. A March that will almost certainly be one of the driest on record for the eastern plains. These are the conditions that have dryland wheat farmers praying for some quick relief.

Peter Goble, a research associate at the Colorado Climate Center, said Weld and Larimer counties’ soil moisture is currently 10 to 20 percent below normal, as deep as 3 feet. To a large extent, the strong and unified jet stream remains a consistent pattern, leaving most of eastern Colorado in a rain or snow shadow. If that pattern doesn’t change soon, it could spell financial disaster for local farmers and ranchers.

“Areas that have access to irrigation are probably going to be OK,” Goble said. “But dryland ag and the ranchland really need that moisture, or they are going to be in a world of hurt.”

Goble said there was also a persistent ridge of high pressure this winter that kept eastern Colorado dry.

Last week’s storm that pummeled southern Colorado with heavy, wet snow would be sweet relief to eastern Colorado farmers. Goble called the southern Colorado storm a “cutoff low,” meaning the low-pressure area was disconnected from the jet stream. The Four Corner lows that are known to bring heavy snow to eastern Colorado are typically cutoff lows.

“We are seeing a more active pattern, and I think we will have serval more shots for moisture in the next two or three weeks,” Goble said. “But none look like they are going to save the dryland by themselves. We can hope it starts to get better, incrementally.”

Note: State Climatologist Nolan Doesken is looking into a reader inquiry about the record number of consecutive days with winds of more than 20 mph. Wellington only has a five-foot-high anemometer, so the data has to be adjusted to reflect what the wind speed would have been on a standard, 20-foot anemometer.