Spring melt at Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park.
The climate of Colorado is quite complex compared to most of the United States. Unlike in other states, southern Colorado is not necessarily warmer than northern Colorado. Most of Colorado is made up of mountains, foothills, high plains, and desert lands. Mountains and surrounding valleys greatlyaffect local climate. As a general rule, with an increase in elevation comes a decrease in temperature and an increase in precipitation. Northeast, east, and southeast Colorado are mostly the high plains, while Northern Colorado is a mix of high plains, foothills, and mountains. Northwest and west Colorado are predominantly mountainous, with some desert lands mixed in. Southwest and southernColorado are a complex mixture of desert and mountain areas.
The climate of the Eastern Plains is semi-arid with low humidity and moderate precipitation, usually from 15 to 25 inches annually.
West of the plains and foothills, the weather of Colorado is much less uniform.
Even places a few miles apart can experience entirely different weather depending on the topography of the area. Most valleyshave a semi-arid climate, which becomes an alpine climate at higher elevations. Humid microclimates also exist in some areas. Generally, the wettest season in western Colorado is winter while June is the driest month. This is the opposite of precipitation patterns in the east. The mountains have cool summers with many days of high temperatures around 60 °F (16 °C)
Extreme weather is a commonoccurrence in Colorado. Thunderstorms are common east of the Continental divide in the spring and summer, and Colorado is one of the leading states in deaths due to lightning. Hail is a common sight in the mountains east of the divide and in the northwest part of the state. The Eastern Plains have some of the biggest hail storms in North America. Also the Eastern Plains are part of Tornado Alley andproduce some of the deadliest U.S. tornadoes.
The highest temperature recorded in Colorado was 118 °F (48 °C) on July 11, 1888, at Bennett, whereas the lowest was −61 °F (−52 °C) on February 1, 1985 at Maybell.
Fauna and Flora
Colorado's great range in elevation and temperature contributes to a variety of vegetation, distributed among five zones: plains, foothills, montane, subalpine, andalpine. The plains teem with grasses and as many as 500 types of wildflowers. Arid regions contain two dozen varieties of cacti. Foothills are matted with berry shrubs, lichens, lilies, and orchids, while fragile wild flowers, shrubs, and conifers thrive in the montane zone. Aspen and Engelmann spruce are found up to the timberline. As of 2003, 13 plant species were listed as threatened orendangered, including three species of cacti, two species of milk-vetch, Penland beardtongue, and Colorado butterfly plant.
Colorado has counted as many as 747 non-game wildlife species and 113 sport-game species. Principal big-game species are the elk, mountain lion, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep (the state animal), antelope, black bear, and white-tailed and mule deers; the mountain goat and themoose—introduced in 1948 and 1975, respectively—are the only non-native big-game quarry. The lark bunting is the state bird; blue grouse and mourning doves are numerous, and 28 duck species have been sighted. Colorado has about 100 sport-fish species. Scores of lakes and rivers contain bullhead, kokanee salmon, and a diversity of trout. Rare Colorado fauna include the golden trout, white pelican, and woodfrog. Nineteen animal species were listed as endangered or threatened by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 2003. The Mexican spotted owl and bald eagle are among threatened species. The razorback sucker, gray wolf, whooping crane, black-footed ferret, southwestern willow flycatcher, and bonytail chub are among endangered species.
Solanum physalifolium (Hairy Nightshade)