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A regional public media collaboration serving the Rocky Mountain States of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

The 'One-Two Punch' That Put Utah And Colorado In Exceptional Drought

Photo of low reservoir. / tupungato
A low reservoir in Headwaters Forest Reserve in Colorado.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert declared a state-wide drought emergency this week. It’s one of two states in our region that were especially hard-hit this year.

Credit Utah Drought Monitor

Peter Goble is a drought specialist with Colorado State University. He said the droughts affecting Utah and Colorado come down to two things.

“That one-two punch of at or near record low snowpack in western Colorado and eastern Utah followed up by the hot and dry summer has made the 2018 drought historic,” Goble said.

It was Utah’s driest year on record and Colorado’s second since records were collected in the late 1800s.

For both states that meant below average reservoirs and an intense summer fire season. Some ranchers even had to sell off cattle and lamb herds because of a lack of grazing material to feed them.

Goble said while seasons vary from year to year, climate change is playing a part over the long term.

“We’re definitely setting more highest temperature records than lowest temperature records,” he said.

If the warming trend keeps up it will continue to increase evaporation, he said, and it will be felt more in a dry year like this one.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

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