Jun 162009
Authors: Madeline Novey

Severe afternoon thunderstorms, pounding hail and tornadoes are not uncommon to the Colorado weather scene and after weeks of consistent moisture, meteorologists statewide said it’s safe to say the drought is near a close.

While the 2009 spring rainfall average is not exceedingly high, CSU meteorologists said it currently sits at 3.6 inches compared with the normal June average of 2 inches, many agreed the combination of snow melt and rain is enough to declare the end of the state’s drought season.

“In our basin, for the South Platte, (winter and spring moisture) has fully erased any of the lingering drought impacts,” said Nolan Doesken, CSU Atmospheric Science senior research associate and state climatologist. “The mountain pack and snow melt was adequate, the spring moisture has pretty much watered all of northeastern Colorado from the continental divide to Nebraska, and the region has caught up with precipitation.”

But as Doesken stressed the importance of “never saying never” when it comes to the weather, other CSU climatologists said it is safe, but not 100 percent accurate, to say Colorado’s dry spell was up.

“It’s probably safe to say,” Brian McNoldy, CSU Atmospheric Sciences research associate, said of the drought conditions, explaining that there are two ways to analyze the situation. “It depends on which (drought) scale: On the short term in this year we’re pretty well set. The other kind of drought people talk about is the long-term drought at five years plus.”

“In this (five-year term) you can have a wet year but not be out of your long-term drought. These last two years have been pretty respectable, if I had to give an answer, we’re more or less out of the drought.”

The long-lasting thunderstorms and tornadoes springing up across the state are originating from a wet pool and slow-flow weather pattern, one that McNoldy said starkly contrasted with last year’s more typical dry, hot spring.

While McNoldy said this is one of the more moist springs he has experienced since moving to Colorado in 2008 — with the exception of 1999 and, in which the state got over 8 inches and 5.5 inches of rainfall respectively — Doesken said weather patterns are beginning to resemble those of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

“June has been the icing on the wet spring cake,” he said, noting that in that approximate 30-year time-span wet, stormy springs with widespread hail and tornadic storms were the norm.

According to more than 120 years worth of data collected at the CSU weather station and researchers in the Atmospheric Sciences Department, Doesken said both hail storms, which average about three to four in an average year and tornado occurrences are normal.

A tornado warning was issued in Larimer County Monday, forcing hundreds of people attending Freshman Preview and graders for the College Board AP Reading Conference to take shelter in the Lory Student Center basement.

Knowing that Colorado weather changes minute-by-minute, one AP History Grader Rob Yanko, who was grading at his 11th AP Reading Conference, said he refused to cancel his tee-time to play golf that afternoon.

“Are you kidding me?” he said, “We’re from Ohio, we’re tough,” he said, gesturing to his colleague while climbing the stairs up to the LSC Food Court for a break.

And while a tornado damaged Southlands Mall in Aurora last week, and other tornadoes were spotted statewide since the beginning of June, Doesken and McNoldy both assured people not to worry.

Tornadoes like those tearing through Kansas and Oklahoma, ranked high on the Fujita Scale, which goes from F0 to F6, F6 being the strongest and largest, are not at all common in Colorado. The 2008 tornado, which ripped through Windsor last summer, was an exception, as large storms do not usually travel that far west.

Colorado’s tornado season will expire in the next week or so Doesken said, but reminded everyone that weather is wholly unpredictable.

News Managing Editor Madeline Novey can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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