The Climate Prediction Center is offering a glimmer of hope for precipitation in Southwest Colorado in the coming months – welcome news as the region continues to experience an intense drought.
According to a report released this week, Southwest Colorado is expected to receive “above-average” precipitation during the monsoon season in July and August, and even into September.
“We’re hoping that’ll help with the drier conditions we’ve been having,” said Matthew Aleska, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction.
It is unknown exactly when the monsoons will arrive, Aleska said, but models suggest it will be sometime in July. Aleska said June could experience below-normal precipitation.
Since April, Southwest Colorado, as well as the entire Four Corners, has been listed in an “exceptional drought,” the most intense drought category according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
A weather station at Durango-La Plata County Airport has recorded just 1.39 inches of precipitation since Jan. 1. The historical average is 5.21 inches. By comparison, last year there were 5.40 inches in the same time period.
“It’s amazing how much difference a year makes,” Aleska said.
Southwest Colorado snowpack is running out too. As of Wednesday, snowpack in the Animas, Dolores, San Miguel and San Juan basins was at 6 percent of normal averages.
And it appears the Animas River has already peaked. According to a river gauge in Durango, the Animas River hit about 2,000 cubic feet per second on May 11, and has been trending down ever since.
The Animas River usually peaks in the first week of June, with the river rising to about 4,000 cfs. If the river has already peaked this year, it will be the third lowest peak on record after 2002 (1,080 cfs) and 1977 (1,460).
A storm system moving into the region Friday night and Saturday holds the chance of precipitation in the high country of Southwest Colorado, but not much, Aleska said.
There’s a chance of snow showers early Saturday before 7 a.m. in high elevations above tree line in the San Juan Mountains, but only an inch or 2 of accumulation is expected, Aleska said.
As temperatures warm Saturday, the chance of precipitation moves to rain. The chance of on-and-off rain continues through Sunday.
But Aleska said the storm does not carry much precipitation with it. Instead, wind gusts, lightning and hail are the primary threats.
“Basically, we’re not going to see much significant rainfall with these storms,” he said.
All of Southwest Colorado remains in a “Stage 1” fire restriction, which hold a set of bans and provisions aimed at reducing the risk of wildfire.
Stage 1 fire restrictions prohibit open burning, burn barrels and agricultural burning on private property in the unincorporated private land areas of La Plata County.
The use of a campfire, coal or wood-burning stove, any type of charcoal grill or open fire in any undeveloped area is prohibited.
The fire restrictions do not include charcoal fires in suitable containers or gas grills for barbecues at private residences or fires within designated campground pits with protective grates; however, residents and visitors must not leave these fires unattended and must carefully and fully extinguish them after use.
The open flame prohibitions also include the following:
Smoking is limited to vehicles, buildings, developed recreational areas and 3-foot-wide areas cleared of vegetation.
Fireworks are prohibited.
Use of explosive material is prohibited.
Use of any internal combustion engine is prohibited unless it is equipped with an approved and functioning spark-arresting device.
Welding and cutting operations must be conducted with a 20-foot radius safe zone free of vegetation with a 2.5-gallon pressurized fire extinguisher or 5-pound ABC extinguisher or pressurized water supply and proper hand tools on-site with a fire-watch individual standing by continuously.
Flaring for production wells may be allowed with approval from the designated fire chief.