The drought that took hold in Colorado this summer is getting worse.
The entire state is experiencing abnormally dry conditions and nearly 17 percent is in the most extreme category — exceptional drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
The Western Slope is the hardest hit, but Kiowa County on the Eastern Plains is also seeing the exceptional drought that can whip up dust storms and cripple agriculture.
Brian Fuchs, a climatologist with the Drought Monitor, said the conditions in Colorado are alarming.
“When you look at Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona — that's definitely where we're seeing the worst drought in the country right now,” Fuchs said.
He said the lack of precipitation and unrelenting heat is a bad combination, especially for the hundreds of firefighters still working in Colorado.
“That's exactly why we're still seeing a high fire danger and still seeing active fires in places. And, and typically this time of year we're cooling off and starting to get wetter. And that just hasn't happened yet,” Fuchs said.
There are still several fires burning in the state, the largest of which is in Larimer County. The Cameron Peak fire has scorched more than 128,000 acres and is 42 percent contained. On Wednesday, a fire ignited just south of Kremmling and quickly burned more than 80 acres in a few hours, prompting evacuations.
A year ago, none of the state was experiencing the extreme categories of drought. Parts were considered dry, but a full quarter of the state had no signs of drought at all.
Colorado could return to those less alarming conditions, as long as the winter delivers some precipitation, said Tom Renwick, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
“If we get a decent winter, and it doesn't have to be, ‘Oh my God, the most amazing winter ever,’ but a decent winter with a decent amount of snowfall, we'll get rid of the drought,” he said. “It looks really bad, but you know, I wouldn't freak out just yet.”