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Monsoon season in Southwest Colorado fails to deliver

High-pressure system blocked moisture through the summer
Irrigation equipment sits idle southeast of Durango on Wednesday next to bare ground. A high pressure system blocked the seasonal monsoon weather pattern from reaching Southwest Colorado this year.

It’s official: The monsoon has been declared a bust.

“Oh yeah, it was bust,” said Megan Stackhouse, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. “Definitely not a good monsoon season.”

The news comes as no surprise to residents of Southwest Colorado, who since the spring have been living with exceptional drought conditions, the U.S. Drought Monitor’s highest level.

But for months, forecasters held out hope the monsoon would arrive this summer to quench the parched landscape.

The Climate Prediction Center in May released a report that said the region was expected to receive above-average precipitation from the monsoon in July and August, and even into September.

Those predictions, obviously, never panned out.

According to a weather station at Durango-La Plata County Airport, only 0.88 inches of rain fell in July – about 0.84 inches below average.

August didn’t improve the situation: Only 0.44 inches of rain were recorded at the weather station in August – about 1.75 inches below normal.

Since Jan. 1, only 4 inches of rain have fallen at the airport weather station, more than 7 inches below normal.

Stackhouse said a high-pressure system blocked moisture from Southwest Colorado, which is why the monsoon never got started.

Typically, the high-pressure system is situated to the southeast, over the High Plains. This summer, the high-pressure system was a little too far west, Stackhouse said, which blocked moisture from making it to the region.

“We had a few good days,” she said. “But that high just blocked everything.”

The last time Durango had any rain was Sept. 9, when about a half-inch fell.

The outlook for the next two weeks is hot and dry. Windy conditions should start up early next week and are expected to bring an element of fire danger.

“It’s definitely a big concern, especially with those windy conditions returning,” Stackhouse said.

Calls to the U.S. Forest Service’s fire management officer, Richard Bustamante, and the Durango Fire Protection District were not returned.

Fort Lewis Mesa Fire Protection District Chief John Lee said conditions are ripe for wildfire to spread. The district’s fire response calls, however, are down, likely because people are on high alert about fire danger.

“People are really paying attention to the conditions,” Lee said. “But when we do get something, like a lightning strike, those conditions are very ripe and ready for a few acres to go quickly.”

jromeo@durangoherald.com

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