The bright side of Colorado’s floods? No more drought

If there’s a silver lining to the storm clouds that covered much of Colorado last week, it’s that the torrential floods they produced ended another long-running natural disaster — a multi-year drought.

Before last week’s deluge — which saw 18 inches of rain fall on some areas in a the course of just a few days — 58 percent of the state was considered to be in the grip of a “severe” drought. Seven days later, that’s been reduced to just 17 percent, according to figures from the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Neb.

A year ago, 100 percent of the state was considered to be severe, with 16 percent at the top of the scale as being “exceptional” drought areas. Less than 2 percent of the state is now in the exceptional drought category.

Of course, that improvement comes at a great cost. The torrential flooding from so much rain caused an estimated $2 billion in property damage and at least seven people have been confirmed or presumed killed. While the number of missing has fallen dramatically, from a high of more than 1,200 people at the beginning of the week to about 150 over the 200-mile disaster zone, hope is fading that they will be found alive.

Despite the floods knocking out the drought, farmers are worried that they’ll also knock out the fall harvest if waters don’t recede quickly. Much of Northern Colorado’s farmland is underwater. The state’s largest cash crop, corn, could rot in the fields, as could hay.

“Our hay is standing in the fields covered in mud, and there’s so much debris we can’t cut it — it could damage our equipment,” farmer Ron Ackerman, who harvests hay in Weld County, told Reuters.

Farmers may not be able to run heavy equipment through waterlogged fields to harvest crops and Gov. John Hickenlooper, at a press conference about the floods Thursday, said some operations had expensive irrigation equipment destroyed or washed away.

But the deluge could be a bonus for other crops, like wheat. Reuters reports that many of the state’s wheat fields benefited from the rains and didn’t suffer badly from the floods.

“Overall, this will have a positive impact,” Darrell Hanavan, executive director of the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers, told the news agency.

The disaster is said to have been a 1,000-year flood, meaning there’s a 1-in-1,000 chance of something of such magnitude happening each year.

Colorado has been in the grip of a drought since at least 2010.

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