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As drought and wind plague Southwest Colorado, one family finds too much water

Creeks and rivers are rising fast from snowmelt, creating hazardous conditions
A family tried to cross Escalante Creek in Mesa County during high water and had to escape as it submerged. The family of three from New York was rescued by the Mesa County Sheriff Search and Rescue team. (Courtesy mesasheriffcrimewatch.org)

As a drought drives Southwest Colorado into a dry fire season, one New York family found themselves driving in too much water.

Creeks and rivers are rising fast from snowmelt, creating hazardous conditions on adjacent roads as a family found out trying to cross surging Escalante Creek southwest of Delta.

The three occupants had to be rescued after their truck sank in 4 to 5 feet of water.

At the same time, a red flag warning is in effect for the region from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday and Tuesday. Winds are expected to be 20 mph to 30 mph, with gusts up to 50 mph. The humidity level was expected to remain low, at 6% to 13%.

The combination of wind, dry vegetation and warm weather has created critical fire conditions, the weather service said.

“Conditions will become favorable for easy ignition and rapid spread of fires,” the weather service said.

A red flag warning means critical fire weather conditions exist now or will exist shortly.

Controlled burns are not allowed in Montezuma County during Red Flag Days. Cortez Fire Protection Chief Jay Balfour reported no fire activity or wind damage over the weekend.

A large low-pressure system over the West and a jet stream are contributing to the high wind conditions, said meteorologist Megan Stackhouse of the National Weather Service.

“Unfortunately, it is a persistent pattern, and we will continue to see the wind,” she said.

Dry conditions also persist. Cortez has had 2.2 inches of precipitation for the year, which is 61% of the normal 3.6 inches, said Jim Andrus, National Weather Service observer for Cortez.

“Our 30-day forecast promises above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation to continue this drought,” Andrus said. “The 90-day outlook promises warm temperatures and equal chances of normal precipitation, just a little more optimistic.”

The current La Niña weather pattern provides a window of hope for monsoonal rain to arrive early in June, Stackhouse said.

During a La Niña season, the equatorial Pacific has below-average ocean temperatures, which creates a higher probability for a drier than normal winter.

Swift water rescue on Escalante Creek

Snowpack is melting off into area creeks and rivers, boosting flows and creating hazardous conditions.

On April 28, a family from New York was rescued after getting stuck in Escalante Creek in Mesa County, according to the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office.

The three family members escaped the truck before it submerged, the Sheriff’s Office said in a post on CrimeWatch.org.

When rescue crews arrived, the water was 4 to 5 feet deep and moving quickly, the post stated.

Rescuers work to recover a truck that became submerged in Escalante Creek after the driver attempted to cross it. (Courtesy mesasheriffcrimewatch.org)

Two of the three family members were still stranded on the far side of the creek bank. Swift-water rescue swimmers safely took them across the river, and crews pulled the submerged truck out of the river.

The Sheriff’s Office reminds the public that as the days get warmer, more snow melts off into creeks and rivers, which tend peak after nightfall, especially in smaller waterways.

A mere 6 inches of fast-moving water can knock over an adult, and just a foot of rushing water can carry away a car.

The Dolores River at Dolores is running at 1,840 cubic feet per second, up from 900 on May 5.


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