Western states see dry winter


Below-average precipitation this winter in Western states may mean more drought and wildfires after a historically dry 2012.

As of Feb. 19, more than 65 percent of the United States was in drought. This time last year, that figure was 48 percent. Sixteen percent of the country is in extreme or exceptional drought, up from 8 percent last year.

Average or above-average precipitation during the rest of the winter would allow the West to recover, the Natural Resources Conservation Service has said, but January was below average. "If the remaining season turns out dry, water supply conditions could end up in the 50 to 70 percent of average range," the NRCS said.

Colorado got some relief in late January when a snowstorm increased the state's snowpack to 75 percent of normal, according to The Denver Post.

But the state's historic wildfire season last year has carried over into 2013, as the Fern Lake Fire in Rocky Mountain National Park burned almost 3,500 acres. While it was 88 percent contained when the wildfire information resource InciWeb last updated in January, its estimated containment date was not until the end of May.

The state is also still dealing with the effects of last year's wildfires. Colorado's senators wrote a letter last week to the Housing and Urban Development secretary asking him to direct emergency funding to Colorado to help it recover from the summer 2012 Waldo Canyon and High Park fires.

They had originally pushed to include wildfire relief funds in the Hurricane Sandy relief legislation, but that didn't make it into the final version.

For more:
- see current drought conditions in the United States from the  National Drought Mitigation Center
- go to the NRCS release
- go to the InciWeb page for the Fern Lake Fire

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