Forecast: Hot and dry for near future

Two wildfires burning in region; monsoons may be weeks away

Today is the first day of summer, but don’t get too eager for the seasonal afternoon showers that take the edge off fierce summer heat, say people who watch weather for a living.

The showers, known as monsoons, could still be weeks away.

“We see signals but nothing significant,” Wendy Ryan, a climatologist at the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University, said Tuesday.

“We have El Niño in a neutral position,” Ryan said. “If we come out of the La Niña we’re in, there could be a change, but we just have to wait and see.”

Ryan was referring to a phenomenon in the South Pacific. When the ocean waters there warm, it’s an El Niño, which produces wetter, colder weather elsewhere. If the South Pacific waters cool, it’s a La Niña, which results in dryer, hotter weather elsewhere.

The Four Corners is in the grip of La Niña now.

As a result of arid conditions, fire officials have upgraded fire restrictions in all national forests and Bureau of Land Management holdings in Southwest Colorado.

Higher elevations where there were no restrictions, now are under regulations that covered lower elevations. Lower elevations now have even stricter requirements.

In short, at lower elevations, campfires and wood stoves are prohibited and smoking is allowed only in an enclosed vehicle or building. A certain type of fire extinguisher must be at hand if chain saws or other internal-combustion engines are used.

Restrictions at higher elevations are less onerous. But maps should be consulted because regulations aren’t governed by elevation but by natural landmarks.

La Plata County commissioners are scheduled to consider implementing additional fire restrictions immediately and allowing fire chiefs and the sheriff to make exceptions. The board meeting will starts at 9 a.m. today.

Jim Daniels, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said the monsoons typically begin in mid-July and run through mid-September.

“We don’t know how typical this year will be,” Daniels said. “The latest outlook for June and July is that they won’t be out of the ordinary, but precipitation this month is expected to be lower than average.”

Normal monthly precipitation for June to September is 0.80 inches, 1.93 inches, 2.3 inches and 1.76 inches, respectively.

“June is typically the driest month,” Daniels said.

As of Saturday, the automated equipment at the Durango-La Plata County Airport registered precipitation at 0.27 inches, below normal for the date, Daniels said.

Daniel said the monsoons are produced when the hot deserts of northwestern Mexico draw moisture from Baja California and the Gulf of Mexico. When the moist air reaches the mountains, it rises, condenses and feeds precipitation into Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado.

“Colorado is on the northern edge of the monsoons,” Daniels said.

Hot, dry weather, aided and abetted by strong wind, has hampered efforts to contain the Little Sand Fire, which was started by lightning on May 13 near Pagosa Springs.

Firefighters have a line around 30 percent of the fire, which has burned more than 13,000 acres in Archuleta and Hinsdale counties.

Overnight Monday, flames had come within 100 feet of the meadow northwest of Poma Ranch. The fire was expected to spread up the North Fork of Sand Creek, an area with a lot of dead and downed fuel.

Meanwhile, around 80 firefighters are battling a wildfire that has burned three structures along the San Juan River in New Mexico.

The New Mexico State Forestry said Tuesday that the blaze has charred an estimated 80 acres by Tuesday evening as crews worked overnight to battle hot spots and strengthening containment lines. The fire has spread over a 5-mile area along the river.

Deputies with the San Juan County, N.M., Sheriff’s Office helped residents Monday with overnight evacuations triggered by safety concerns with downed power lines and smoldering trees. The fire is 30 percent contained.

The fire is burning just east of Bloomfield. Its cause is still under investigation.

An early snowmelt this year and the lack of rain has left area rivers hurting. Animas River flow topped out Tuesday at 555 cubic feet a second, The day the Missionary Ridge Fire erupted on June 9, 2002, the Animas was flowing at 481 cfs. (On June 30, 2002, the flow was 172 cfs). The fire eventually burned 72,962 acres.

daler@durangoherald.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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