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Officially – monsoons are here

By Dale Rodebaugh Herald staff writer

It’s safe to say the monsoons have arrived in Southwest Colorado.

And with them comes a welcome easing in fire danger, although not an end.

“There’s a monsoonal ridge moving into the right place,” Aldis Strautins, a meteorologist and hydrologist at the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said Monday.

“We have a ridge of high pressure over Texas and Oklahoma that is bringing moisture from the Gulf of California and to a lesser degree from the Gulf of Mexico into the Southwest,” Strautins said. “This occurs with the seasonal wind shift.”

As a result of thunderstorms in the last week, enough moisture has reached the San Juan National Forest to eliminate fire restrictions at 8,500 feet elevation and above, and reduce restrictions from Stage 2 to Stage 1 at lower elevations, effective Wednesday, the Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch Center said Monday.

“Fire managers have determined that lower and middle elevations remain dry and potentially flammable,” the agency said in a statement. “Higher elevations have received enough moisture to significantly reduce fire danger.”

The Bureau of Land Management also announced Monday that effective Wednesday, it is downgrading from Stage 2 to Stage 1 fire restrictions in La Plata, Archuleta, Montezuma and Dolores counties. Stage 1 restrictions will remain in place in Delta, Gunnison, Hinsdale, Montrose, Ouray, Saguache, San Juan and San Miguel counties.

Fire restrictions, more severe at lower elevations, affect campfires, smoking and the use of tools such as chain saws and explosives in the national forest and in unincorporated La Plata County.

Meanwhile, the Durango Interagency Fire Dispatch Center reported a half-dozen small wildfires Sunday and Sunday night. The fires, the majority about one-tenth of an acre, were reported from the Southern Ute Indian Tribe reservation to Pagosa Springs to Vallecito.

Butch Knowlton, director of emergency preparedness for La Plata County, said county commissioners on Wednesday will consider reverting from Stage 2 to Stage 1 restrictions on all private land in the county.

“We’ll see, with the precipitation, whether we can rescind Stage 2 and go back to Stage 1,” Knowlton said.

The erratic nature of the monsoons will require some discussion on the county’s decision regarding the bans.

“The monsoons are very hit or miss,” said Travis Booth, a forecaster with the National Weather Service. “There are areas that received a lot more precipitation and others that received a lot less.”

At the Durango-La Plata County Airport from 6 p.m. Sunday to 6 p.m. Monday, the National Weather Service’s instruments measured 0.08 inches of precipitation, with an additional 0.12 inches by 8 p.m. Monday. Month to date as of 5 p.m., the equipment had measured 0.75 inches of precipitation.

In contrast, the station measured 0.02 inches in the entire month of June.

Meanwhile,the weather service site northeast of Durango at 10,000 feet of elevation received 1.42 inches between 1 and 8 p.m., when it was still sprinkling.

Bill Butler, who reports from Rafter J in southwest La Plata County, had received 0.44 inches as of 7 a.m. today, with 0.93 since 7 a.m. Friday. Maureen Keilty, who lives in the same subdivision, reported 0.25 inches as of 7 a.m. today.

There’s no way to say how long the monsoonal pattern will last, Strautins said, but, traditionally, the monsoons last from early July into early September.

Meteorologists and forecasters feed information from satellites, ground observations and balloons – launched twice a day from Grand Junction, Denver, Albuquerque, Salt Lake City and Flagstaff, Ariz. – into a computer to see patterns a couple of weeks out, Strautins said. The answer they get is broad, or regional.

“It’s hard to be precise,” Strautins said. “It’s hard to say it will rain this afternoon or over your house. We may not see a constant pattern because there can be a surge, and then it backs up.”

The weather service has predicted a 40 percent chance of rain for Durango today and a 30 percent chance tonight through Thursday night, with thunderstorms in the forecast through Sunday.

“The next few days won’t be as active as Monday,” Booth said, “but it will still reflect monsoon activity. Your part of the state stays pretty moist, focused in the mountains.”

Herald Staff Writer Ann Butler contributed to this story. daler@durangoherald.com

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